Alana, a 63-year-old from New York, sent an article underlining pertinent facts on the rising rate of sexually transmitted diseases among seniors to her mother, a widow in her 80s living in a 50-plus senior complex in Florida.
The former teacher, who asked that her real name not be used, hoped to inform her independent mother, who had started dating again and had a new boyfriend. But Alana was not prepared for her mother's response.
"She called me and was indignant and claimed that she and her 'friend' did not have sex," Alana said. "I have no idea if she was telling me the truth, but it's possible she was. She did, however, tell me that the very few men who lived in her senior development were in high demand and that many of them went out with multiple partners"
"Now, 'went out' with might have been code for sex, but I'm not really sure," she said. "I think the advent of Viagra and similar drugs has made possible what was once unlikely."
She's right. Sex and sexually transmitted diseases are not just for the young anymore. Drugs such as Viagra for men and hormone supplements for women mean that Americans are staying active well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s.
And now some health officials have launched a multi-pronged prevention program aimed squarely at senior citizens, including reversing the tables and asking "children" to have those awkward conversations with their aging parents.
In 2009, nearly 20 percent of all new HIV and 25 percent of all AIDS diagnoses in Florida were in those older than 50. More than half of the cases were among those who live in South Florida, according to the Broward County Health Department.
Some state projections say that the majority of people with the disease will be seniors by the year 2015.
Many older Americans are now sexually active, but might not be practicing safe sex. They might be less knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS and therefore less likely to protect themselves with condoms or seek testing, health experts say.
That trend is also reflected nationally. In 2005, 15 percent of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses were among those older than 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC).
"For many people, when we discuss this at senior complexes or groups, no one's ever had this discussion with them," Evelyn Ullah, the STD, HIV and AIDS prevention director with the Broward County Health Department, told the Miami Herald. "As a result, they don't perceive themselves at risk."
Bob Brand, a dapper 91-year-old and Holocaust survivor from Valhalla, N.Y., was equally surprised by the news that seniors are at risk for HIV/AIDS.
His wife died three years ago and women eager to date swarmed to his door.
"I had been married to my wife and never had any problems with her," said Brand, a former elevator company owner who hadn't thought much about sexually transmitted diseases since he served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
"I am really surprised," he said. "You know sexual activity now is totally different than it was in our lives. People do it a lot more than we ever did. It's hard to understand."