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HIV or AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Geriatric Patients

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As women and men age, their immune systems become weaker, and they have a greater risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases than the younger population.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Shah Sushma Kant

Published At November 10, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 4, 2023


Age is not a barrier when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. It can happen to anyone who is sexually active, but its prevalence and symptoms are more in the older population compared to the younger population. The reason for this can be a weaker immune system in older people and their underlying medical diseases. The most common sexually transmitted disease that they acquire is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This is caused by a virus called the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Some of the other sexually transmitted diseases are syphilis, chlamydial infection, gonorrhea, genital herpes, genital warts, hepatitis B, and trichomoniasis.

What Is HIV or AIDS?

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, a virus responsible for causing the disease named acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The mode of transmission for this virus is through bodily fluids like semen, vaginal fluids, and infected blood. Once an individual is affected by the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the symptoms start to appear within a week. These symptoms resemble the symptoms of flu-like fever, sore throat, and fatigue. After this, the disease is usually asymptomatic until it leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Some of the symptoms of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are fatigue, weight loss, recurrent infections, fever, and night sweats. There exists no cure for this disease. We can only try to reduce infections and symptoms. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome can make things worse in older age group patients by further weakening their immune system and worsening their existing medical illness.

What Are the Factors Contributing to Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Older Adults?

  • As a solution to erectile dysfunction, men are encouraged to engage in sexual activities with multiple partners, and this increases their risk of developing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and also other sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Compared to the past, in recent times, midlife divorce is rapidly increasing. Because of this, the older age group is also into online dating and having sexual relationships with strangers. They do not check the sexual or medical history of the person, and if the person they engage with is infected, then the infection quickly passes to them.

  • The Human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV or AIDS) came to light in the 1980s, and because of this, there is a lack of awareness about its transmission in the older generation. They often do not use protected and safe sex.

  • There is no chance of pregnancy in the age group above 50 years; this is also a reason older adults engage in unprotected sex.

What Are the Challenges in Diagnosing Sexually Transmitted Diseases (HIV or AIDS) In Older Adults?

1) Lack of Awareness:

Older people may be embarrassed to consult a doctor and tell their family members about their sexually transmitted disease. They might report to the doctor at a much later stage of the disease, which complicates the treatment. In the early stages, there are better chances of recovery, and treatment is confined to only a few medications. There are chances that the patient might not identify the disease as many sexually transmitted diseases like Human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV or AIDS) present with symptoms only at a much later stage in the disease. The doctor might also misdiagnose the early symptoms of the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), like fatigue, memory changes, and weakness, as signs of aging. Older adults have been shown to have a higher mortality rate in sexually transmitted diseases compared to younger adults; hence it is very important to diagnose the disease at the earliest

2) Misconceptions Regarding Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs):

Many healthcare center workers tend to neglect sexually transmitted diseases in older adults thinking that it is prevalent only in the younger age group. There is very little talk about sexually transmitted diseases in such centers. Some of the patients might be inactive sexually and yet have the disease as they would have contracted the disease at a much younger age. This preassumption of thoughts makes healthcare workers often relate the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases to other diseases. This might cause a delay in the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and the infected individual might further spread the infection to others. The most common sexually transmitted diseases in older populations are Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chlamydia, and gonorrhea.

  1. Chlamydia: Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It occurs both in women and men. In women, the symptoms of the disease are pelvic pain, vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge, and dysuria. In men, the symptoms are mucopurulent or purulent discharge from the urethra or burning upon urination; a few men may remain asymptomatic.
  2. Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It affects the uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, mouth, throat, eyes, anus, and cervix. Symptoms seen in men are urethritis, and symptoms seen in women are dysuria and slight discharge.
  3. Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS):The Human immunodeficiency virus kills the immune system cells and makes them weaker. The symptoms start to show up after two to four weeks of the infection. The symptoms are fever, night sweats, fatigue, rash, muscle ache, sore throat, ulcers in the mouth, etc. Many patients remain asymptomatic until the infection progresses to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is a much more severe form of infection and has no complete cure.

How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Elderly?

  • Older individuals should be educated about sexually transmitted diseases in long-term care just as the younger generation is educated.

  • Regular screening should be done in the elderly population during complete health check-ups.

  • They should be advised to engage in safe sexual practices even after crossing the childbearing age, especially when they are involved with more than one partner.


Doctors are sometimes hesitant to open up about sexually transmitted diseases because they feel ashamed to talk about it to someone of their parent’s age. They might also be under the assumption that sexually transmitted diseases are for the younger generation. Patients also hesitate to talk to their primary healthcare workers regarding this; we must motivate our parents to openly address and accept such situations. This will help the patient and the doctor to come up with a better treatment plan and prevent the infection from spreading further. Our society should also come together and support one another and not look down on patients with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

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Dr. Shah Sushma Kant
Dr. Shah Sushma Kant

HIV/AIDS specialist


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