A story in the CT Mirror about the escalation of AIDS/HIV cases among older people in Connecticut caught our attention. According to the article, almost half of the state’s residents living with HIV and AIDS are over 50.
Today’s 50- to 60-year-olds were in their 20s at the start of the 1980s, when AIDS was first diagnosed, so we assumed that most of those over-50s the Mirror was writing about were infected decades ago in their youth. We were wrong. And this is not a Connecticut problem. Older people make up the fastest growing segment of new HIV/AIDS cases in several states; in New York—the state with the third-largest AIDS population—17 percent of new cases are among people over 50. And wherever you live, if you’re a senior with HIV, the chances are you don’t even know you’ve been infected, because we all think of AIDS as a young person’s disease.
Post-menopausal women who were dating in the 50s, 60s or 70s still think of condoms as protection against pregnancy—and these days, we don’t have to worry about getting pregnant. Now we’re older, our doctors are unlikely to recommend routine HIV testing because they assume we’re not sexually active unless we’re in a long-term monogamous relationship.
“Health officials estimate 20 percent of those who have HIV don’t know it. As a result, these people could unwittingly be spreading the disease and delaying treatment for themselves.”
In fact, many seniors are sexually active. According to the Connecticut Mirror, men living in senior housing routinely pay sex workers to visit on “check day.” And whereas our parents’ generation didn’t date in their older years, we have a new outlook on senior dating, as well as new drugs, like Viagra, that make sex more viable at our age. Many of us who are dating again after divorce or widowhood find partners on senior dating sites. And because we think of AIDS as a disease of the young, we tend not to protect ourselves.
Health officials quoted by the Connecticut Mirror say that some 20 percent of people who have HIV don’t know it and could be spreading the disease. Some may be mistaking HIV symptoms for common complaints of the aging. As a result, older people are diagnosed later and sicker, at a point in the illness when retroviral drugs are less effective.
The CT Mirror reports that advocacy organizations are pressuring the government to extend routine HIV testing past age 64 and to implement AIDS education programs for older people. That might mean using senior models in those AIDS prevention ads you see on bus shelters and in subways.
Good idea or bad idea? Tell us in the comments box below—and take the Senior Planet poll!