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 Study Sheds New Light on Intimate Lives of Older Americans 
by National Institutes of Health - 8/22/2007
Older Adults Are Active Despite Increased Sexual Problems with Age

A majority of older Americans are sexually active and view intimacy as an important part of life, despite a high rate of ?bothersome? sexual problems, according to a new report in the Aug. 23, 2007, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The findings come from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The findings shed new light on the intimate social relationships and health of people ages 57 to 85, informing health care providers and patients about sexual norms in the older U.S. population.

The project is the first comprehensive, nationally representative survey to assess the prevalence of sexual activity, behaviors and problems in relation to health status among people in their late 50s and beyond. The study provides information about a number of important aspects of health and sexuality with age, including sexual problems in relation to specific chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and hypertension; relationships between physical health problems or limitations generally and sexual activity; and physician communication about sexuality at older ages. Physical health, the researchers found, was more strongly associated with many sexual problems than age alone.

The study has implications for health education efforts to prevent sexually transmitted disease in older people. Although data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests stability in HIV diagnoses among Americans aged 50 and older, the number of older people diagnosed with AIDS and living with HIV is increasing, as individuals who were infected with HIV at younger ages are living longer before progressing to AIDS. However, sexual activity among older adults poses risks for new cases of HIV, as approximately 15 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections are among Americans over age 50.

Led by Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., who conducted the study with Linda Waite, Ph.D., and others at the University of Chicago, the research was funded primarily by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of NIH. Additional funding came from NIH?s Office of Research on Women?s Health, Office of AIDS Research and Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and from private-sector sources. Data collection was supported by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Georgeanne E. Patmios of NIA?s Behavioral and Social Research Program is program officer for the project.

?Despite the aging of the population, little had been known about the intimate lives of older adults,? said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. ?This study expands our knowledge by reporting, on a national scale, data about sexual functioning and health among older adults.?

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Provided by National Institutes of Health on 8/22/2007
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