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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 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.

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 getting tested.

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.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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