Fifty is Nifty-just be SAFE!
- Created on December 4th, 2006
Fifty used to be considered old, now it is considered nifty. Nifty because anyone fifty and over–the "baby–boomer" generation–has seen the social norms about divorce, sex, and dating drastically changed. With the emergence of drugs like Viagra and not having to worry about unplanned, unwanted pregnancies anymore, both women and men are having frequent and often unprotected, risky sex. Seniors are unlikely to consistently use condoms during sex because of a generational mindset and unfamiliarity with HIV/STD prevention methods. Consequently, the risk of exposure to HIV for older Americans is increasing at alarming rates. Between 11 and 15% of U.S. AIDS cases occur in people over age 50, and the numbers are expected to increase as people of all ages survive longer due to triple–combination drug therapy and other treatment advances. Yet, the rate HIV infections (not AIDS) in seniors are especially difficult to determine because older people are not routinely tested.
Knowing this, the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged Inc. (NCBA) is making a concerted effort to teach seniors how to become advocates for their own health. Often times, clinicians are reluctant to discuss or question matters of sexuality with aging patients or clients. As HIV symptoms often are similar to those associated with aging (fatigue, weight loss, dementia, skin rashes, or swollen lymph nodes) misdiagnosis is frequent in older people who are in fact infected. Older persons are first diagnosed with HIV at a late stage of infection, and time and again become ill with AIDS–related complications and die sooner than their younger counterparts; these deaths can usually be attributed to original misdiagnoses.
Also, due to the general lack of awareness of HIV/AIDS in older adults, this segment of the population is often omitted from research, clinical drug trials, educational prevention programs and intervention efforts. There are few educational prevention programs and intervention efforts that show a wrinkled face on the outreach materials. Unfortunately when most seniors think about HIV/AIDS, they think about young, gay, white men. And that simply is not the truth. The face of HIV/AIDS is anyone and everyone.
While men who have sex with men form the largest group of AIDS cases in the over–50 population, the number of cases in women infected heterosexually have been rising at a higher rate and comprise a greater percentage as age increases into the 60’s and older. Furthermore, because of stigma, it can be difficult for seniors–women, in particular, to disclose their HIV status to family, friends and their community. For example, for older women there are special considerations after menopause, condom use for birth control becomes unimportant, and normal aging changes such as a decrease in vaginal lubrication and thinning vaginal walls can put them at higher risk during unprotected sexual intercourse. Yet, little in the public dialogue speaks to the special considerations that impact women or men in this age group–thus both are uninformed about HIV transmission.
In addition to the lack of programs and intervention efforts, seniors are often met with the cultural attitude that assumes elderly people have lived their lives, so what if they die from AIDS? With that, seniors are less likely to find support and comfort among family and friends because they are traditionally not comfortable in support groups, they may be less inclined to join them, citing lack of shared experiences concerning different issues. Since the aging process itself lowers energy levels and results in lifestyle restrictions that can cause emotional/psychological problems, the older adult infected with HIV may feel another "loss" and endure severe depression. Seniors suffer from two stigmas. One is the stigma of living with a disease that is transmitted sexually or through drug abuse, and the other is the stigma of being old.
So, as we recognize yet another World AIDS Day and commemorate the 25th anniversary of HIV/AIDS being in the national spotlight, NCBA is on a mission to spread the word about HIV/AIDS in seniors. NCBA is determined to reach out to seniors around the country to let them know they can get HIV/AIDS even if they are over 50. NCBA wants seniors to know that if they are sexually active, having unprotected sex, and/or a recreational drug user that they are at risk for HIV infection. To address some of the emotional, psychological, and social problems that older HIV/AIDS infected people face, NCBA will collaborate with other Area Agencies on Aging to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS by hosting a series outreach workshops and training sessions in the Washington , DC metropolitan in early 2007. The workshops and training sessions will inform older adults about HIV prevention and transmission. Seniors will also learn basic HIV/AIDS information, "safe" sexual and drug using practices, testing, and negotiation skills, all in relationship to aging. All of the training sessions and workshops will reinforce the need for continued HIV/AIDS education in older adults, while promote respect and validation for the elderly as a group.
To learn more about more about HIV/AIDS in older adults or the upcoming workshops, contact the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, Inc. at 202–637–8400 or visit www.ncba–aged.org.