Many factors can contribute to sexual dysfunction in older men, including physical and psychological conditions, comorbidities and the medications used to treat them. Aspects of an ageing man’s lifestyle and behaviour and androgen deficiency, most often decreasing testosterone levels, may affect sexual function as well. A study of men between the ages of 30 and 79 years showed that 24% had testosterone levels below 300 ng/dL and 5.6% had symptomatic androgen deficiency.2


What’s important to take away from this is that, because erections can occur throughout the day for no reason, erectile dysfunction can be difficult to diagnose. Some men achieve erections for no reason, yet when provided with stimuli, they aren’t able to. Some men, on the other hand, only get aroused when directly stimulated. This means that healthcare professionals need to take into account many variables prior to diagnosing and treating erectile dysfunction.
A rigid or nearly rigid erectile response to intracavernous injection of pharmacologic test doses of a vasodilating agent (see below) indicates adequate arterial and veno-occlusive function. This suggests that the patient may be a suitable candidate for a trial of penile injection therapy. Genital stimulation may be of use in increasing the erectile response in this setting. This diagnostic technique also may be used to differentiate a vascular from a primarily neuropathic or psychogenic etiology. Patients who have an inadequate response to intracavernous pharmacologic injection may be candidates for further vascular testing. It should be recognized, however, that failure to respond adequately may not indicate vascular insufficiency but can be caused by patient anxiety or discomfort. The number of patients who may benefit from more extensive vascular testing is small, but includes young men with a history of significant perineal or pelvic trauma, who may have anatomic arterial blockage (either alone or with neurologic deficit) to account for erectile dysfunction.
How’s this for a win-win: The more sex you have, the less likely you are to suffer from erectile dysfunction, according to a 2008 study published in The American Journal of Medicine. Men aged 55-75 who reported having sex less than once per week had twice the incidence of erectile dysfunction (there were 79 cases of ED per 1,000) as men who have sex once a week (32 cases of ED per 1,000). But if you really want to up your odds, shoot for three times per week (only 16 cases of ED per 1,000). Can you really argue with science, or a perscription to have more sex?
Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.
Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy may be useful for some patients with erectile dysfunction without obvious organic cause, and for their partners. These may also be used as an adjunct to other therapies directed at the treatment of organic erectile dysfunction. Outcome data from such therapy, however, have not been well-documented or quantified, and additional studies along these lines are indicated.
In addition, a man affected by lower testosterone may feel less sexually inclined, less interested in viewing sexual material, and less interested in physical activities. To add to this, a man dealing with less testosterone may also become less assertive, more inclined to stay in, and more likely to seek out medical help for his erectile dysfunction.
ED is often the result of atherosclerosis, and as a result, men with ED frequently have cardiovascular disease. Sexual activity is associated with increased physical exertion, which in some men may increase the risk of having a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI). The major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease are age, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, smoking, abnormal lipid/cholesterol levels in the blood, and lack of exercise. Individuals with three or more of these risk factors are at increased risk for a heart attack during sexual activity. The Princeton Consensus Panel developed guidelines for treating ED in men with cardiovascular disease. Thus, if you have ED and cardiovascular disease (for example, angina or prior heart attack), you should discuss whether or not treatment of ED and sexual activity are appropriate for you.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.
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