Last week, we talked about the global statistics of HIV/AIDS and learned that 15% of all newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases are in those 50 and older. We also learned that the virus that causes HIV can cause dementia and the virus and/or drugs used to treat it can cause osteoporosis and osteonecrosis as well as peripheral neuropathy. These conditions can all impact someone’s ability to age within their home. This week however, we’ll be talking more about why the numbers for those 50 and older are being diagnosed with HIV. I think there’s a belief/feeling out there that older people can’t get HIV/AIDS, but clearly, the numbers show differently. So, why are people aged 50 and older accounting for 15% of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases?
1. Not practicing safe sex
• With the use of medications for erectile dysfunction, more older men may be engaging in unsafe sexual activity
• Older women don’t risk getting pregnant and so are not asking their partners to use condoms
• Also, with age, women experience vaginal thinning and dryness, which can cause vaginal tears
2. Injecting drugs or smoking crack
• HIV through injection drug use accounts for more than 16% of AIDS cases in adults 50 and older
3. Lack of knowledge about the disease:
• A lot of older adults may falsely believe this is a disease of youth and not a disease that can impact them
• Don’t use condoms
• Don’t get tested
4. Healthcare workers may underestimate the risk for their patient’s disease and not discuss HIV/AIDS with their older clients
5. Symptoms may be misdiagnosed
• Physicians may miss a diagnosis of AIDS including symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, and mental confusion because they think it is part of the normal aging process,
So, what to do next?
If you think you may be at risk for HIV/AIDS, get tested. While the stigma for HIV/AIDS may be greater for older adults, knowing your status is crucial. The CDC recommends routine testing for people up to age 64. They also suggest HIV testing for those 64 and older if they have risk factors for HIV/Infection. Additionally, the CDC recommends prevention strategies such as education for older adults.