The 21st Century Identity of AIDS: People Over 50

Doctors often fail to offer HIV/AID testing to sexually active seniors.

By Elyse Galles, EGP Staff Writer

The face of AIDS is not the gay, white representation it once was, according to a number of recent studies. The rate of HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans and Latinos has surpassed that of whites and now, according to AARP, 1 in 7 new diagnoses of HIV or AIDS is in a person over the age of 50.

With sexual health so heavily tied to family planning, HIV/AIDS is often seen as a consequence of irresponsible sexual behavior during youth. Add in that many older Americans mistakenly think condoms are only for preventing pregnancies or that a partner over 50 is less likely to have the disease—and it’s not hard to see why older Americans make up the fastest-growing segment of the HIV-positive population.

Of the estimated 1.1 million Americans with HIV, some 407,000 are over 50; by 2017, half of the total HIV-positive population will be over 50, AARP reported in the July/August 2011 issue of “AARP The Magazine.” Latino women make up 20 percent of all women diagnosed with HIV; 5.5 percent are aged 55 years or older.

Though HIV/AIDS is, in many cases, a manageable chronic disease, over thirty years after the first diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, the virus is still deadly, especially for those who don’t get tested in time and go untreated, says Dr. Jane L. Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

According to a study in the journal Aids Care, Latinos are already more likely to test late for HIV infection compared to other racial/ethnic groups in the United States, making them more susceptible to contacting full blown AIDS, which is less manageable and more likely to lead to death than HIV.

So regardless of age, “if you’re thinking of becoming sexually active or changing partners, you need to get screened,” says Vanessa Cullins, M.D.

“It might not occur to most doctors to ask older patients about sex or to offer sexual health screenings so you’ll often have to bring it up,” says Laura Berman, Ph.D., professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “You have to advocate for your own sexual health. Getting tested, and making sure your partner does the same, is one way to do that.”

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August 11, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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