HIV, AIDS, and Older Adults
Is HIV/AIDS Different in Older People? continued...
Older people often mistake HIV/AIDS symptoms for the aches and
pains of normal aging, so they are less likely than younger people to get
tested for HIV/AIDS. They may be embarrassed, ashamed, and fearful of being
tested for HIV/AIDS, a disease connected with having sex and injecting drugs.
People age 50 and over may have had the virus for years before being tested. By
the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in its most
Older people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS do not live as long as
younger people who have the virus. It is important to get tested early. The
earlier you begin medical treatment, the better your chances for living
Many older people who have HIV/AIDS live in isolation because
they are afraid to tell family and friends about their illness. They may have
more severe depression than younger people. Older people are less likely to
join support groups. Older people with HIV/AIDS need help coping both
emotionally and physically with the disease. As the infection progresses, they
will need help getting around and caring for themselves. Older people with AIDS
need support and understanding from their doctors, family, friends, and
HIV/AIDS affects older people in yet another way. Many younger
people with HIV/AIDS turn to their parents and grandparents for financial
support and nursing care. Many older people have cared for their own children
with HIV/AIDS and then for their orphaned and sometimes HIV-infected
grandchildren. Taking care of others can be mentally, physically, and
financially draining. This is particularly true for older caregivers. Taking
care of someone with HIV/AIDS can be very hard and stressful.
HIV/AIDS, People of Color, and Women
Of all the people age 50 and over with AIDS, more than half
(52%) are black and Hispanic. Of all men age 50 and over with AIDS, 49% are
black and Hispanic. Of all women age 50 and over with AIDS, 70% are black and
Hispanic. The number of HIV/AIDS cases continues to rise in communities of
color. Educators, healthcare workers, and community leaders need to inform and
warn people about HIV -- the dangers of having sex without a condom, the
dangers of injecting drugs and using infected needles, and the importance of
The number of older women with HIV/AIDS, regardless of race, is
also on the rise. Over a recent five-year period, the number of new AIDS cases
in women age 50 and older increased by 40%. Two-thirds of the women got the
virus because they had sex with infected partners. Nearly one-third of the
women got HIV because they shared needles.
There may be a connection between HIV/AIDS and women in
menopause. Women who are no longer worried about getting pregnant may be less
likely to use a condom and practice safe sex. Some menopausal women have
vaginal dryness and thinning. This means they are more likely to have small
tears and abrasions during sex. This can put women at greater risk for HIV.
Because women may live longer than men and because of the rising rate of
divorce, there are a large number of widowed, divorced, or separated women
starting to date. Because many of these women do not understand how HIV/AIDS is
spread, they may be at risk.