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National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness

Kelley R. Prevatte, RN, BSN

Advancements in the treatment of HIV/AIDS have allowed people living with the disease to live longer. Each September the AIDS Institute’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day helps bring awareness to the challenging issues the aging population faces regarding HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of Americans living with HIV are older than 50 and thousands of older Americans are newly diagnosed with HIV every year. One in six people diagnosed with HIV are the age of 50 and older. In 2017 alone, 6,640 new HIV diagnosis were among seniors. This can create issues related to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care for aging Americans.

Observed on September 18 since 2008, there are many ways to recognize National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. Together we can help everyone be more knowledgeable about the effect of HIV among the aging population: we can talk to our families about HIV and aging; make sure older people are tested; and share awareness information on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Communities can come together to participate in awareness-raising activities and events. The Infectious Disease department’s Prevention and Community Team at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza incorporates testing and education to all ages all year. In observance of National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, the team is visiting retirement homes in the Pee Dee area throughout the week of Sept. 18 to provide education and goody bags.

Many older people may have the same risk factors as younger people but may not have the prevention knowledge they need and additional barriers can increase their risk. For example: a senior may visit their doctor more often but may feel uncomfortable about discussing sex and illegal drug use; a woman over age 50 no longer worries about becoming pregnant so they may not practice safe sex. Also, as women age, their vaginal tissue will thin and dry out which increases risk for HIV infection. Additionally, older adults may miss signs of HIV infection commonly mistaken as symptoms of aging and age-related conditions.

It is important for all people to be tested for HIV and know their status. A challenge in preventing HIV transmission is that the older people in United States are more likely to be in a late-stage HIV infection when they are diagnosed. This delay in starting treatment may cause the older population to have damaged their immune system. Most of this is due to the stigma that is related to HIV. Seniors can be more concerned of being treated differently by their family and friends, which can cause self-image negative effects and their quality of life.

The older HIV patients can may develop chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity as well as other health problems related to aging, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, bone loss, and cancers. These age-related conditions can cause HIV treatment to be more complex while treatments for these conditions may interfere with HIV medicines. Further compounding older HIV patients risks for side effects is the age-related decline of liver and kidney functions which inhibits the ability to process HIV medicines well.

If you are age 50 and older, talk to your health care provider about your risk of HIV infection and ways to reduce your risk. Also, ask your health care provider whether HIV testing is right for you.  For more information regarding HIV in people older than 50 years of age, visit the CDC’s HIV Among People Aged 50 and Over or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents Living with HIV: HIV and the Older Patient.

Kelley R. Prevatte is the Infectious Disease practice administrator at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence.


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