Today is World AIDS Day. You might wonder what this has to do with older adults? According to the National Institute on Aging, about a quarter of those with HIV/AIDS are 50 years or older. Sure, with the treatments available now some of those people have aged into their 50s and beyond, but some are newly diagnosed. Some only recently discovered they were HIV positive and some only recently contracted HIV. The CDC indicates that in 2005, 15% of new diagnoses were those in the 50+ age group.
Part of the issue is that most people are like you and me; we don’t tend to think of HIV as being an aging issue. We don’t think about our grandparents or our parents having a sex life. Indeed we all would prefer to believe in the stork when it comes to our parents’ sex lives and goodness they’d better not ask about ours! Suffice to say though, sexuality is an important part of aging and older adults are having sex.
Recognizing that older adults are having sex is important for those of us who are caregivers and/or working with older adults. We need to ask questions and ensure that they have the information to be safe. Think about it, sexual education is a hot topic for those households with teenagers, but what about in the households and communities where older adults may be getting back into the dating scene?
June 1981 was when the first case of AIDS in the United States was reported; since then it’s been a part of sexual education. But this is not true for the boomers and their parents. Some have been in committed relationships for at least 30 years or longer, meaning that preventing HIV has had little to do with their life. Additionally, many older adults dismiss safe sex as irrelevant to them because they mistakenly believe that it’s all about preventing pregnancy. But part of sexual education is about preventing STDs, including HIV. Older adults may be misinformed or uneducated about how HIV is transmitted; including the risk factors and how aging impacts these risk factors. Some people may not understand that HIV effects people of all sexual orientations. And the stigma of HIV/AIDS is still strong, especially within certain minority and ethnic communities. Unfortunately, this stigma can lead to later testing and treatment; therefore leading to more potential infections.
The other group that is at high risk of contracting HIV are injection drug users. The CDC indicates that HIV transmission through injection drug use accounts for more than 16% of AIDS cases among persons aged 50 and older. This may be because the children of the 60s are aging. Many of them are familiar with drugs, have used drugs in the past and may be more willing to turn to them as they age.
Do yourself a favor and talk to your clients or loved ones about getting tested for HIV/AIDs.
Christine Bitzer, LICSW, is the Assistant Director of Seabury Resources for Aging’s Care Management service. Care managers work with older adults on an individual basis to advise them on a variety of issues and services; such as home care, transportation, medical/legal assistance and housing. Families are put at ease having a knowledgeable guide to provide recommendations and resources to meet their unique needs. This expertise can save families money and reduce stress and time away from work. Christine can be reached at (202) 364-9663 or email her at CBitzer@seaburyresources.org