STIs in the over 45s: Can home care workers help?

The UK Homecare Association recently urged home care workers to look out for signs of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the people they provide care for. Their policy and campaigns director, Colin Angel, stated that because home care workers see people on a daily basis, they are ‘well placed’ to identify ‘abnormal symptoms, including those which may result from a sexually transmitted infection’ and consequently can offer appropriate referral advice.
This represents an interesting development in the public arena around sexuality and ageing, exemplified by a shift in focus to the sexual health needs of older adults. It is one which differs to the usual spotlight on sex and ageing where news pieces (usually reporting the findings of research studies) tell us that older people do engage in sex and that we shouldn’t ignore this fact. I agree, we shouldn’t  But I also think that we hear this type of ‘news’ over and over again (to the detriment of other relevant findings of the research study) so to read about this different focus makes for a refreshing change.
So what was the instigation for this feature hosted on There is no doubt that it comes off the back of figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) that demonstrate a continual increase in the rates of STIs in the 45 and older age groups. According to the Homecare feature there has been an increase in all five main STIs. The 45-64 age group had the highest increase in herpes, syphilis, genital warts and Chlamydia, and the second highest recorded increase in gonorrhoea (the highest was in the over 65s). The feature also reports that HIV has ‘doubled’ over the past 10 years in people aged 50 plus.
It’s great to see this topic getting recognition and coverage by service providers but it is not the first time such increases have been measured in the UK. For example, the Family Planning Association (FPA) paid attention to the increasing STI rates in these age groups back in 2010 when they took up the issue in their The Middle-age Spread campaign, released to coincide with sexual health week.
What I also like about the Homecare feature is that it positions the sexual health of people at mid and later life as central to health care. It encourages home care workers to acknowledge the issue and, when relevant and with the client’s consent, provide referrals to appropriate health professionals. All too often older groups are excluded from information on sexually-related topics (e.g. when to resume sexual activity after a heart attack) and STI prevention programmes have, historically, focused exclusively on younger people. Bravo to Homecare for taking ageing and sexual health seriously.

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