newsmaker: Terrie Ginsberg
by Mary Ann Littell
When Terrie Ginsberg is not seeing patients, making rounds, teaching or catching up on paperwork, you'll probably find her tapping away at her computer keyboard. She writes a bi-monthly column for New Jersey's Courier-Post. The subject: sex over 50.
For Ginsberg, an internist and geriatrician at The Center for Aging at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM), the column is a labor of love. "I've enjoyed writing since my college days," she says. The Courier-Post approached her about two years ago and asked her to write the column.
Ginsberg is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she also did a fellowship in geriatrics. She has long had an interest in geriatric sexuality. "You talk with older patients about various health issues - for instance, urinary incontinence or side effects of medications - and invariably there is a sexual component," she says.
Isn't a column about sex over 50 somewhat limiting? Not at all, says Ginsberg, who is also assistant professor of medicine at SOM. Among the topics she's written about are aphrodisiacs, abstinence, lack of desire, sexually transmitted diseases and masturbation. She gets ideas for her column from her own patients, her own research (she has studied sexual behaviors among the aging population) and other health trends. "Many people think this age group is too old for sex, but that's wrong," she says. "They are actively having sex."
She mentions the rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV among older people. "HIV is increasing the most rapidly in the over-50 age group, accounting for 11 to 15 percent of all infection," she continues.
She also cites a recent study from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in which only 13 percent of the women surveyed (ages 50 and over) knew that condoms are effective protection against HIV. "To many older people in long-term relationships, HIV is more of a news story than a threat to their personal health, so they're not as well-informed as they should be," she says. "That's why we need to keep talking."
The wide reach of her column sometimes surprises the physician. She's recognized on the street and in the supermarket. When she lectures to community groups, people invariably ask her when her office hours are. She also receives frequent e-mails from readers with specific medical questions. While she acknowledges that e-mail is a more comfortable, anonymous way to ask embarrassing questions, it's no substitute for talking to a physician, and she encourages the e-mailers to do just that.
The hottest topic she's covered recently: Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. "There's no question that these medications have greatly improved sexual function in older men, but they can be used as a crutch," she says. "I tell patients that they don't work without sexual stimulation and a libido."
When she's not doctoring or writing, Ginsberg is an avid theater-goer, and she loves to sing as well. Show tunes and Sinatra classics are her favorites. She and another SOM physician, Dr. Ritchell Dignam, have formed their own singing group: The Diva Doctors. They've performed at nursing homes in south Jersey, their appearance resulting in yet another media "hit" in the local papers. They sing together as a way to bond with their older patients.
Ginsberg began singing when she was 14, at the request of the rabbi at her synagogue. "He asked me to sing at a geriatric center. I'd never even been to a nursing home before," she recalls. "I belted out a few tunes, they loved it, and so did I. This was really when I first began gravitating towards older people."
The physician is certified in end of life care counseling and is also president of the geriatric sub-division of the American College of Osteopathic Internal Medicine. She recently received the Geriatric Academic Career Award, a five year, federally funded grant of approximately $300,000. This grant is for leadership development in geriatrics and to fund Ginsberg's work in creating geriatric curriculum for medical residency programs.
She says the four most important influences in her life are her parents, who encouraged her daily, and Drs. Thomas Cavalieri and Anita Chopra at SOM's Center for Aging. "They have been my mentors since the day I arrived here," she says.