- POSTED: 14 Oct 2013 07:28
This graph is an experimental feature that tracks number of views over time.
Study anticipates increase in sexually-transmitted infections among seniors.
SINGAPORE: Sexual health education and disease prevention programmes should be targeted at seniors and not just at young people, a team of doctors involved in a recently published study has urged in anticipation of an increase in sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) among the elderly.
The study -- published in the Ministry of Health's epidemiological news bulletin last month -- said there may be "genuine public health concerns" of rising trends of specific diseases, such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and genital herpes, among the older population.
Authored by five doctors from the Communicable Diseases Division and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, the study said the risk of older persons getting STIs is higher due to several factors, including longer life expectancy and medical advances allowing men and women to remain sexually active even as they get older.
Noting that STIs in persons older than 50 are rarely studied as they occur mostly in younger people, the study said: "In view of the ... ageing population in Singapore, it is crucial that we understand the epidemiology of STIs in the older age groups as this would have potential public health implications, given the anticipated rapid growth of the population of susceptible elderly people in Singapore in the near future."
The study examined trends of STIs in older adults aged 50 and above between 1996 and 2011.
While it noted that overall STI incidence rate in the older population had decreased in recent years, it found that HIV and AIDS, as well as genital herpes, specifically, are on the rise among the older population.
The study also found that about a quarter of the newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases between 1996 and 2011 — or 1,245 people — involved those aged 50 years and above, indicating an overall upward trend in the incidence of HIV/AIDS among older Singaporeans.
Among men with HIV/AIDS, 8.9 per cent were in the 50-54 age group, 6 per cent in the 55-59 group, while 9.8 per cent were 60 and above. For women, it was 6 per cent (50-54), 7.2 per cent (55-59) and 7.8 per cent (60 and above).
"The increase in (the) incidence of HIV/AIDS among older Singapore residents is likely driven by a significant rising trend in incidence among older males, given that the incidence rates among females remained fairly low throughout the study period," the study said.
Men also outnumbered women in all disease categories of STIs.
The study noted a pattern in the data: That older men are at a higher risk of, or more were found to have acquired, certain infections than women. It attributed this to the possibility of older men turning to commercial sources for sex, and having less intercourse with their spouses.
Women, on the other hand, are at risk as condom use among them appears to decrease with age.
Referring to previous data, the study noted that this could be due to a lack of concern about pregnancy, or a misconception among older women that they are not at risk of getting STIs.
The top three most common STIs in older people were gonorrhoea, non-infectious syphilis and genital herpes.
The study concluded: "A better understanding of disease trends among older persons will provide guidance for the planning of multifaceted sexual-health education and prevention programmes, including specific interventions for the elderly, if necessary."
Experts who study ageing also highlighted the urgent need for education and campaigns to be implemented, noting that social norms have changed.
National University of Singapore (NUS) Associate Professor Angelique Chan, who specialises in ageing and health of older people, said: "With the rise in affluence, more people are able to seek more sexual opportunities, even up to their 70s and 80s. Asia is more traditional, but there will still be a slow upward trend."
NUS sociologist Associate Professor Paulin Straughan said: "While we teach abstinence to younger people, we also have to raise (the) awareness of barrier methods for older adults. These are things we don't think about for the elderly, but it should not be taboo if we can talk about it to the young."