Sex in the senior years: Why it's key to overall health
(HealthDay)—Lovemaking isn't just for the young: Older people gain a lot of satisfaction from amorous relations as well.
But things get complicated as people age, and many folks let this important part of life drift away rather than talk about sexual problems with either their partner or their doctor, experts told HealthDay Now.
"Not many people talk about sex with their doctors, especially as we age," said Alexis Bender, an assistant professor of geriatrics with the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta. "So many people do report sexual dysfunction on surveys, but they don't when they're talking to their doctors. And so it's important to have those conversations with primary care physicians."
It's worth discussing. A healthy sex life brings many benefits to seniors, experts say.
Sex has been linked to heart health, as well as overall mental and physical health. "It's definitely an association, and it's positive," Bender said.
For example, lots of beneficial biochemicals are released by the body during sex, said HealthDay medical correspondent Dr. Robin Miller. These include DHEA, a hormone that helps with cognitive function, and oxytocin, another hormone that plays a role in social bonding, affection and intimacy.
"Having sex is a really important part of overall health and happiness, and people that have it, they live longer," said Miller, a practicing physician with Triune Integrative Medicine in Medford, Ore.
Sex can actually get better as you get older, Miller added.
"For instance, for men, they can control their ejaculation better as they get older," Miller said. "Women aren't worried about pregnancy once they go through menopause, so they're freer."
Unfortunately, aging does complicate matters a bit when it comes to sex, Bender noted.
"For both men and women, we see changes in physical health such as diabetes or cardiac conditions that might limit desire or ability to have sex," Bender said. "Activity decreases with age, but interest and desire does not, for both men and women."
The changes wrought by menopause and andropause also can affect the sex lives of older men and women, Miller said.
"For women, vaginal dryness is a big issue. With men, it's erectile dysfunction," Miller told HealthDay Now.
Luckily, modern medicine has made advances that can help with these problems. Hormone replacement therapy can help women with the physical symptoms of menopause that interfere with sex, Miller said, and men have Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs.
"The story of Viagra is very interesting, actually," Miller said. "In 1998, they were experimenting using it as an antihypertensive. What they noticed was when they were experimenting with these men, when the nurses arrived to check on them they were all on their stomachs, because they were embarrassed since they had erections."
"That's when they realized this was a much better medicine for erectile dysfunction than high blood pressure, and that's made a big difference for men," Miller continued.
Women can take Viagra as well, "but women don't like the side effects. Men don't really like them, either, but they're willing to put up with them," Miller said.
"What I found is for women that you can use Viagra as a cream on the clitoral area," Miller said. "I call it 'scream cream.' You can get it made up at a compound pharmacy. It works like a charm. You still have to wait 40 minutes like men do, but there's no side effects, and it works, especially for women who are on antidepressants, who have trouble reaching orgasm. It really is very helpful."
So help is out there, but seniors will have to get over their hang-ups and talk to their doctor to take advantage of these options, the experts said.
"Sex and sexuality are taboo in our society," Bender said. "Especially for women, sex is highly regulated and talked about at an early age, and we're really socialized to not be sexual beings."
Miller said, "I think it's generational. Some Baby Boomers have a hard time talking about sex. My kids don't have any trouble talking about it. I bet yours don't either."
Women also face practical problems when it comes to finding a sex partner, particularly if they're looking for a man, Bender said. Women outlive men, so the dating pool shrinks as time goes on, and men tend to choose younger partners.
Through her research, Miller was surprised to learn that many women just give up on the search.
"Even though I think it's important to have a healthy sex life and healthy partnership, a lot of women don't want to reengage in partnership as they get older," Miller said.
"They've been married. They've taken care of people for a very long time. They've taken care of their husbands and their children. And they just say, I don't want that anymore. I'm happy to sit and hold hands with someone, but I don't want to get into a relationship again. And so that kind of challenged some of my generational thinking about what relationships mean over time."
More information: The Mayo Clinic has more about good sex and aging.
HealthDay. All rights reserved.
Miriam Jones Bradley, RN
(HealthDay News) -- When you mention arthritis, most people think of osteoarthritis, where aging and wear-and-tear on the joints take their toll, but there is another type of arthritis that causes devastating damage after your immune system starts attacking your joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Here's what you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis, including its symptoms, types and treatments.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that mostly affects joints. Commonly affected joints are the hands, knees or ankles. Usually both sides are affected. Over time, RA progresses and leaves patients with irreversible joint tissue damage, chronic pain, loss of function and deformities. Other areas of the body that may be involved are eyes, heart, circulatory system and/or the lungs.
Rheumatoid arthritis types
There are two main types of RA, seropositive and seronegative. When RA occurs in patients under 16, it is called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.
Seropositive means your blood has two types of antibodies — anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides (anti-CCPs) and rheumatoid factor (RF) — which cause the symptoms of RA. Most people with RA have one or both of these antibodies. It is possible for these to show up in your blood tests anywhere from five to 10 years before symptoms appear.
Seronegative simply means that the anti-CCPs and RF do not show up in your blood. Doctors will look for other ways to determine if you have RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes
RA is the result of an immune response in which the body attacks its own healthy cells. While researchers don't know why this occurs, studies show that it could be a combination of factors, including genes, environment (smoking) and sex hormones, according to the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
Risk factors include family history, age, sex (women are more likely to have RA), previous joint injury and obesity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine determined that gut bacteria may be partly to blame as well.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
The joint stiffness found in active RA is usually worse in the morning and may last two hours or more, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Movement usually helps loosen the joints.
Other RA symptoms include a loss of energy, low-grade fevers, poor appetite and firm lumps called rheumatoid nodules. These nodules grow beneath the skin in areas such as the elbows and hands.
According to the NIAMS, further medical problems that RA might cause are anemia, neck pain, and dry eyes and mouth. Some potentially serious symptoms are inflammation of the blood vessels, lung tissue, airways and the lining of the lungs. It can also cause inflammation in the sac around the heart (pericardium). Lung disease with scarring and inflammation of the lungs can be severe in some people.
Rheumatoid arthritis medications
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines effective treatments for RA, including medications and self-management strategies.
Rheumatoid arthritis medications include:
What is the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis? According to the Mayo Clinic, osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, occurs when the cartilage that caps the bones in your joints wears away. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the joints.
Another difference is the speed with which it advances. RA is known to progress quickly at the beginning and is progressive. It can be quite disabling and deforms joints into a bent position. Early intervention is critical.
On the other hand, osteoarthritis progresses slowly as you age. Repetitive activities that put a strain on the joints can lead to osteoarthritis. Old injuries can also be a factor. Osteoarthritis is sometimes hereditary and overweight people are more likely to experience this type, due to the strain on their joints.
"It's important for a physician to figure out which arthritic condition you have because we have treatments to help put RA into remission," rheumatologist Dr. David Fox, a professor at University of Michigan Medical School, said in a recent article.
While rheumatoid arthritis can be a life-altering diagnosis, with early treatment, careful management and a dedication to a few simple healthy living strategies, people with RA can increase their chances of living the full life they desire.
RheumatoidDiseases & ConditionsDiseases And ConditionsArthritisRheumatoid ArthritisDiseasesWellness