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HIV & AIDS Health Center

HIV, AIDS, and Older Adults

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Is HIV/AIDS Different in Older People?

The number of older people with HIV/AIDS is on the rise. About 10% of all people diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S. -- some 75,000 Americans - are age 50 and older. Because older people don't get tested for HIV/AIDS on a regular basis, there may be even more cases than we know. How has this happened?

Because older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger age groups: how it is spread; the importance of using condoms and not sharing needles; the importance of getting tested; the importance of talking to their doctor.

Because healthcare workers and educators have neglected the middle-age and older population in terms of HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

Because older people are less likely than younger people to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.

Because doctors don't tend to ask their older patients about sex or drug use. It is harder for doctors to recognize symptoms of HIV/AIDS in older people. Doctors need to talk to their patients about the specific behaviors that put them at risk for HIV/AIDS.

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 advanced stages.

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 longer.

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 community.

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.

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