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Questions for the Experts: Is sexual dysfunction in the elderly just part of aging?

We asked members of our medical staff to answer some common questions they hear from their patients.

Q: Is sexual dysfunction in the elderly just part of aging?

A: Sexuality is an important part of overall health and vital to the emotional and physical intimacy that men and women experience throughout their lives, even into their 90s. Sex is important in maintaining a good relationship for couples as they age, but can be affected by sexual dysfunction. Seeking treatment is commonly avoided because of embarrassment or fear of judgement, such as worrying that the doctor may think of the patient as a “sex maniac” or abnormal. It’s important to bring all issues to your doctor’s attention so they can be addressed. A lack of sexual feeling and desire does not have to be part of the aging process.

In general there are some medical and psychological causes behind sexual dysfunction regardless of age, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, smoking, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalances, kidney disease, liver failure, alcohol abuse and drug use.

Younger people are increasingly being diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure and experiencing sexual dysfunction at an early age due to a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits.

The side effects of medication can also affect sexual function. As we age our body’s ability to break down medications and clear out toxicity is impaired, which can lead to undesired side effects. The odds of being a victim of polypharmacy (multiple medications) increases with age and new symptoms like decreased desire or erectile dysfunction may be the result of drugs.

Psychological causes include stress, anxiety, marital or relationship problems, depression, feelings of guilt, concerns about body image and the effects of any past sexual trauma. The success of treatment for sexual dysfunction depends on the underlying cause. The prognosis is good if it is related to a condition that can be treated or reversed. Dysfunction related to stress, fear or anxiety can be successfully treated with counseling. The key to remember is that sexuality is part of your overall health, and if it is concerning you, you should feel comfortable talking about it with your healthcare provider.

Nahida Khan, MD, sees patients ages 18 and older in Campbell County Medical Group Internal Medicine in the Main Clinic, 501 S. Burma Avenue, on the south side of Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, Woyming. Call 307.688.3636 for an appointment. Learn more at www.cchwyo.org/IM.