Send condoms, not flowers – SEX AND THE SENIOR Nursing homes are racing to accommodate sexually active boomers

Get ready for the 1960s sexual revolution to reach its ultimate climax.

The trend-setting baby boomers are starting to move into retirement homes and long-term care facilities. But is the retirement industry ready for a generation that came of age during the summer of love? As boomers age — the oldest are 67, making them 22 during the so-called summer of love — and move into retirement and long-term care facilities, health care providers are increasingly having to accommodate sexually active seniors.

“I think it’s been a secret up until now, and as more people are moving into care we are making it an issue,” said Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for the Canadian Association of Retired People.

“There’s no reason why that part of their lives should stop. People start with the assumption that at a certain age you stop being sexual, and that’s not true.”

Nursing homes are ill-equipped to accommodate seniors’ sexual needs, Eng said.

“We need more private rooms. It’s a question of design, and the current state of affairs is not designed to accommodate this part of people’s lives.”

At Oak Crossing, a 160-bed long-term care facility which opened two years ago in London’s northwest, residents can choose to live in a “couple’s room.”

There’s also a stay-over room meant for visiting family members that can also be used, on request, if two residents want some privacy, said Elaine Shantz, the interim administrator at the city-owned nursing home, Dearness Home. She previously worked at Oak Crossing.

“There are ways in which we are trying to address the rights of our seniors,” she said. “As the baby boomers age, all sorts of things will change.”

At Dearness, there’s no such private room for residents to rent.

But staff try to put couples in a room together, if possible, or give them rooms close to each other. “This is the residents’ home. They come here to live, so throughout their

life here, we strive to meet their needs,” Shantz said.

Sex education needs to catch up to the reality of sexually active older boomers, said Susan Silcox, a social worker at Parkwood Hospital, who teaches future doctors about sexuality and seniors.

“Maintaining sexual health is a lot about adjusting your expectations of it, because the sex you had in your 20s is not the same sex you’ll have when you’re older,” she said.

A Canadian study released in 2002 found 70% of adults over age 70, and 25% over age 80, are sexually active.

Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are on the rise worldwide and boomers and seniors also need to know about safer sex.

According to theAmericanCenterfor Disease Control, there were almost 900 cases of syphilis in 45-to 64-year-olds in 2000.

By 2010, the number grew to more than 2,500. InCanada, 2006 statistics showed 12% of reported AIDS cases were in people over age 50.

“When you pay attention to any advertising, you’ll see that the Viagra and Cialis commercials are aimed at the older generation. But anything about safer sex is aimed at the younger generation,” Silcox said.

While younger boomers may be up on the latest safer-sex practices, many older ones weren’t thinking about condom use during the summer of love.

“They may have had sex with just one partner, or only to conceive children, and they think now that they’re older (safer sex) doesn’t apply to them, which isn’t true,” Silcox said.

Added Eng: “It’s embarrassing enough to admit that they’re doing this, let alone asking for directions. They’re not going to ask their kids.”

Erica Zairns, a public health nurse with the Middlesex London Health Unit, speaks to groups about sex as part of a sexual health promotion team.

She’s never been asked to talk to a group in a seniors’ home, but she’s spoken to groups in the community that include older people, especially women.

“The topic of sexuality is sensitive, especially if you’re not used to it,” she said.

“We are sexual beings from birth to death. It’s a really important part of most people’s lives.”

She’s taken groups of women to sex shops to figure out how to use sex toys and many of the older women readily participated.

“The biggest sexual organ is the brain, so it doesn’t matter what you have below the neck. Sexual activity is very beneficial, whether it’s with yourself or with a partner,” Zairns said.

“We should encourage safer sex in adults.”

Nursing homes should be last-resort places, Eng said, so seniors can live as long as possible in their own homes with dignity and privacy.

When people do go into long-term care facilities, they should encounter staff and administrators willing to accommodate sexually-active residents.

Administrators and personal care workers need to be sensitive.

“They should not assume that once you go into care, that part of your life is over and you are essentially neutered,” she said.

“Among residents, you’ll have connections. (Staff ) need to be aware that this is an important part of (residents’) lives and they need to have dignity and privacy.”

Source: Sun media, published by: The London Free Press

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