It may come as a surprise to some that there have been increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occurring within the assisted living population￼. Assisted living facilities typical cater to older adults or individuals with disabilities who benefit from assistance with activities of daily living. Facilities vary in level of care and can range from more independent living to up to 24-hour medical care. Particularly, syphilis has been a major public health concern for older adults residing in these facilities. Several reasons for this increase may be that older adults are more likely to underestimate their risk of becoming infected with a STD, doctors are less likely to discuss sexual health with them, and social stigma may prevent them from seeking treatment for STD’s.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection which is passed on during skin to skin contact with infected areas. It can also be spread from mother to baby during pregnancy. Arizona has the highest rate of congenital syphilis of all states. More information from the Pima County Health Department can be found here.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), some of the most common symptoms of Syphilis include:
swollen lymph nodes
patchy hair loss, non-itchy skin rash
rash on the bottoms of feet and palms of hands
Untreated syphilis can damage your brain, nerves, eyes, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints, and in some cases, can also lead to death. Syphilis is diagnosed by blood tests by a physician at your local health clinic. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a single injection of long-acting Benzathine penicillin G can cure the early stages of syphilis. More information from the CDC website can be found here.
For older adults residing in assisted living facilities, starting the conversation about safe sex practices, including STD education, tips on how early detection of STDs and contraception use is extremely important. Health and wellness fairs and other events are great ways for older adults to get involved in their community and maintain their sexual health.
The following are additional resources for STD prevention and treatment: