NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Erectile dysfunction may be a feature of normal aging in men, while urinary or bowel function doesn't necessarily decline with age, according to a Dutch study.

"I had expected that the association between urological function and age would be stronger," Dr. Ida J. Korfage from Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam told Reuters Health.

Using data from more than 3,800 participants in the European Randomized Study on Screening for Prostate Cancer, Korfage and her colleagues assessed whether urinary, bowel, and sexual dysfunction "and the associated bother" were part of the "normal" aging process.

As described in the medical journal Urology, the men -- all of whom were cancer-free -- were divided into five groups by age: 58-61, 62-64, 65-67, 68-70, and 71 years and older.

According to the investigators, the proportion of men with erectile dysfunction was significantly higher among older men, with more of them reporting either that they were sexually active but having problems with erections, or sexually inactive because of erectile problems.

Korfage added, "I like to stress that sexual inactivity is not necessarily the same as erectile dysfunction. Reasons for not being sexually active can also be not being interested (anymore) or not having a partner. Not everybody who is sexually inactive is in need of medication."

Although urinary function was poorer and more bothersome in older age groups, the differences between age groups were not very great.

Bowel problems were uncommon, with no significant differences among age groups, the report indicates.

So, when these problems are seen in older men who have been treated for prostate cancer, they are more likely due to the treatment rather than to age alone, the team points out.

SOURCE: Urology, July 2008.