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What do healthy aging, grey divorce and not enough sex education have in common? Sources associate all 3 with the increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among Canada’s over-50 crowd. This could include some of your clients – some of whom may want to talk about life and health coverage. But will you be caught off guard? And will a discussion involving STIs go beyond your comfort zone?

Knowing more about this trend is a good way to prepare for a potential conversation. And knowing about relevant solutions within the financial services industry will encourage a meaningful dialogue.

Frisky facts

In its winter 2015/2016 Health Digest, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) linked improvements in public health care during boomers’ younger years – immunizations, antibiotics, diagnostic procedures – to better health in their later years. “These advances have allowed them to have longer, healthier, more active lives … and along with better health and active aging comes sex,” according to the report.

‘How much sex’ was revealed in a 2016 study conducted by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN)1 and sponsored by the makers of Trojan products. After surveying 2,400 mid-life Canadians2 about their sexual health attitudes and behaviours, this study confirmed that:

  • about 40% of the married/cohabitating respondents have sexual encounters once or more per week, and
  • 30% of singles report the same frequency.

“There is a public perception that as we age, sex becomes less important, less enjoyable and less frequent,” said Dr. Robin Milhausen, sexuality and relationship researcher at the University of Guelph. “The study findings indicate that most mid-life Canadians are indeed leading satisfying and active sexual lives.”

What they don’t always take are precautions.

Risky business

In a report based on a 2010 survey from the Canadian Liver Foundation, 1 in 5 boomers said they use condoms less, since pregnancy isn’t as much of a concern. But while the risk of pregnancy is reduced as female partners age, they didn’t seem to realize that STIs aren’t age-discriminate:

  • more than half of all boomers said they’re not worried about contracting any STIs;
  • 30% of unmarried boomers aren’t worried.

The 2016 SIECCAN study reported that 56% of single men and 61% of single women are ‘not very concerned’ or ‘not at all concerned’ about contracting an STI, which seemed to result in high risk behaviour. Among those who were sexually active:

  • 55% of single men and 32% of single women had 2 or more partners in the previous 12 months.
  • 65% of single men and 72% of single women did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse.

“We have a lot of work to do to bring single mid-life Canadians up to speed on the need for safer sex,” explained Alex McKay, Ph.D., Executive Director of SIECCAN.

Mid-life malady

Insight from the Public Health Agency of Canada supports McKay’s sentiments. Across the country, reported rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and infectious syphilis have been climbing since the late 1990s. Although the majority of cases are among younger Canadians, reported rates of infection have increased significantly among middle-aged and older adults.

The same goes for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the retrovirus that causes AIDS. In 2014:

  • the largest proportion of HIV cases was diagnosed among people aged 30-39 years (31.6%), followed by the 40-49 year age group (22.8%).
  • the proportion of HIV cases among those aged 50 or older increased from 15.0% in 2009 to 21.9% in 2014, surpassing the 20-29 year age group (21.4%) as the third-highest proportion of cases in 2014.3

The good news is that while not all STIs are curable, they can all be managed and treated.4 This includes HIV. Thanks to medical advances, current antiretroviral drugs give HIV-positive Canadians the ability to lower their level of HIV, slow the spread of the virus in their body and help their immune system fight off other infections. With proper treatment, they have a better chance of living a longer, healthier life. In fact, starting treatment early can increase their chances of living a near-normal lifespan.5

More sobering stats
A study in the U.K. confirmed that the rates of chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea and syphilis infections are rising among those aged 45 years and older, while in the U.S., people age 50 and over accounted for 15% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses and 24% of persons living with HIV.
Source: CPHA 2015/2016 Health Digest

Addressing the issues

These developments have also had an effect in the financial services industry. Among the major insurers now offering HIV life insurance coverage is Sun Life Financial, which announced industry-leading underwriting and product changes in November 2016.

“Sun Life has always paid close attention to medical advances around the world, to continously evaluate and refine our underwriting guidelines and client offerings,” explains Chief Underwriter, Sharon Smith.

“Through earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments, conditions that were once considered incurable – such as Hepatitis C and HIV infection – are now considered manageable chronic diseases. As a result, we now offer individuals with HIV infection, who comply with medical treatment and have a favourable medical context, and who would otherwise qualify for insurance, more than $3 million of life insurance, providing the most coverage for the broadest ranges of ages in the Canadian industry.”

Sun Life’s tele-interviewing service may also come in handy when it’s time to collect client information for life and critical illness insurance applications. If you’re not comfortable asking clients about potentially sensitive medical information, tele-interviewing may be the way to go. Similarly, some clients feel more comfortable providing information, over the phone, to someone they don’t know personally.

And you can always learn more. Check out Health Canada’s STI summary, the Canadian AIDS Society’s HIV and Aging in Canada report and the Public Health Agency of Canada’s 2013 infectious disease report.

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1 SIECCAN is a nationally registered charitable organization founded in 1964 to foster professional education and public knowledge about sexuality and sexual health.

2 1,200 men and 1,200 women between the ages of 40 and 59 (25% in each of 4 age categories: 40-44; 45-49; 50-54; and 55-59); 91.5% were heterosexual

3 Source: HIV and AIDS in Canada: Surveillance Report to December 31, 2014 – Results at a glance

4 Source: Sexual Health Ontario

5 Source: Healthy