Florida Health Officials Say Have That Sex Talk With Grampa

Florida, like the nation, has seen a rise in HIV/AIDS among the elderly.

Sept. 23, 2011— -- 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.

The Florida Department of Health is encouraging younger people to talk to their older parents about sex, the talk they once received as children, according to a report in the Miami Herald.

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."

He told ABCNews.com that he was going to inform his group of seniors at the complex where he lives about the risks.

"I would like to bring this up at the dinner table tonight and tell them certain people not only want sex, but they have a problem with sexually transmitted diseases," he said.

"I meet a lot of women here, but we just talk to each other and there's never been any sexual activity, as far as I know," Brand said, laughing.

Brand's 62-year-old daughter, Cheryl Berman, an art teacher from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., said she worried three years ago when her mother died and women flocked to her father.

"She had hospice care and the day she died and the nurse called from the bedroom to come now, a woman after my father bust in to see what she could do to help him," Berman said. "They all lined up and chased after him."

Her son and Brand's 25-year-old grandson Joshua described it as a "feeding frenzy."

Sexually transmitted diseases are a "problem," said Berman. "Trust me, I know."

After Berman's divorce several years ago, she began a long-term relationship with a man in Canada. "Before we even started, I thought to ask to see the [HIV test] papers," she said. "I want to see it with the raised stamp of the doctor."

Berman had met the man in an online Scrabble chat room and both her father and son worried about her dating a man she had never met in person.

"He was furious with me," Berman said of her father. "He wouldn't even talk to me."

Berman's son, Josh actually had the sex talk with his mother before the Canadian adventure.

"I did it in a slightly joking way," he said. "I told her, 'Mom, you don't have to be home by 10, but don't do anything that can get you pregnant and use protections.'"

Berman, he said, was "caught slightly off guard" as he interjected while mother and son were talking about the dating.

Josh Berman, who studied nursing and is getting his Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification in Irvington, N.Y., said he would have been "more comfortable" talking with his grandfather, but he was glad he spoke to his mother.

Health experts say younger Americans who are newer to the dating scene are probably in the best position to address these delicate issues so openly with their older family members.

"It's going to be embarrassing," said Marlene LaLota, HIV prevention director for the state, who said leaving literature on the table can also get the conversation going.

"Anything that gets the ball rolling," LaLota told the Miami Herald. "Remember, the roles were reversed once upon a time, where it was the mother having the conversation with the daughter 30 or 40 years ago."