HIV Risk Factors in the Elderly Population
Seniors account for a large part of the population living with HIV. In fact, the CDC says those aged 55 and older make up 26% of the estimated 1.2 million people living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in this country. Unfortunately, older adults fail to get the diagnosis and treatment that could prolong their lifespan with the disease, with HIV often being diagnosed too late in the course of the infection. As a result, there is a shorter HIV-to-AIDS interval, which in turn reduces chances of survival. As many as 40% of older adults were diagnosed with AIDS at the same time they were diagnosed with HIV, says the US Department of Health and Human Services.
As we reflect this September 18 on National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, we recognize the challenges that older Americans face with this disease. It’s time to learn more about HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment so this percentage can be reduced or eradicated. Many seniors are home bound with HIV and AIDS and require home care services to manage their daily routines. Others are nearing the end of their lives with this devastating disease and enter hospice care to make them comfortable.
Let’s go over some HIV risk factors in the elderly population.
The risk factors for HIV infection in the elderly are largely the same as those for everyone else. Regardless of age, the top risk factors include:
- Unprotected sex
- Sharing needles
Most of the population tends to ignore the fact that older people are still sexually active or even that they use drugs. Truth is, they do. In fact, 45% of people over the age of 50 reported risk factors, including multiple partners, STDs, and alcohol or drug use, according to The Body. Further research concludes that heterosexual and LGBT older adults are sexually active even into their mid-80s. With more people enjoying a healthy sex life well into their golden years, there are more chances for HIV infection to spread among that population.
Where the elderly are unique in their risk for HIV is in regards to their age. Many older people are divorced or widowed, entering the dating world after decades of being faithful to one person. They don’t have as much knowledge about HIV as their children and grandchildren do, and they are far less apt to talk to their doctors about sex safety. In addition, females are not concerned about getting pregnant and therefore aren’t as diligent about protection in the bedroom. Lastly, doctors aren’t as likely to test them for HIV because of the perception that seniors don’t engage in sex.
Why Seniors are Overlooked for Treatment
A growing population is consistently being overlooked in regards to HIV prevention and treatment: seniors. So-called “ageism” is partly to blame, finds emerging research. There is a perception out there that HIV and AIDS only affects young people, those who use IV drugs and those who are gay. However, almost half of people living with HIV are older than 50 all around the globe, at least in developed countries with good health care systems, says Science Daily. Many countries are expecting to see that percentage rise to 70% by 2020. In addition, those over age 50 make up 17% of new HIV infections.
About two-thirds of all older Americans with HIV say they have been victims of stigma — not just pertaining to their disease but to their age as well. What can we do to turn that stigma around and get more people educated about HIV in the elderly?
There are a few ways society can shift this stigma and start diagnosing and treating seniors earlier. Suggestions include:
- Training health care providers in how to properly screen for HIV in order to make an early diagnosis.
- Target prevention, education, and outreach programs toward older adults.
- Publicize treatment guidelines for older individuals suffering from HIV.
- Offer funding in line with this demographic.
- Engage communities, local organizations and social service providers in regards to outreach, mental health, and social support.
- Educate older people about preventing risky behaviors, utilizing age-sensitive information and education.
- Encourage physicians to screen patients of all ages for HIV.
It’s never too late to introduce healthy behavior in seniors, especially when it comes to sex. Removing barriers to communication and getting rid of the stigma can lead to better outcomes for this segment of the population.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
Getting treatment and care for HIV in your aging parent or other loved one is of paramount importance. Here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice, we have home care available round the clock to help your loved one keep up with treatments and lifestyle changes. Contact us at 888-755-7855 to find out how we can help ease that transition.