Unsafe sex is the most common way people contract HIV worldwide. Many people mistakenly assume that older Americans are not sexually active and therefore not at risk for HIV infection. This is not the case. A 2007 national survey of Americans ages 57 to 85 found that the majority of older Americans are sexually active. However, older Americans do not always realize that they may be at risk for HIV infection.
When Americans think about HIV, the face they imagine isn’t that of a person who has lived over half a century and beyond. Yet, in 2009, people aged 50 and older accounted for 17% of new HIV diagnoses. With the advent of successful antiretroviral therapies, adults 50 and older will comprise the majority of people living with HIV in the U.S. by 2015.
While older Americans need information about HIV prevention, most do not talk to their doctors about their sex lives. Only about a third of older men and just a fifth of older women surveyed had discussed sex with a doctor since age 50. Doctors too, may underestimate their older patients’ risk for HIV/AIDS and may miss opportunities to discuss HIV prevention or testing. Many older Americans visit the doctor on a routine basis, but they do not often bring up the subject of sex or drug use. The Aging Services Network (ASN) has an important role to play by educating older adults that talking about HIV testing with their doctor is their responsibility. They should not assume their doctor will ask them to be tested for HIV. Medicare now covers HIV screening for people with Medicare of any age who ask for the test.
The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) national Act Against AIDS campaign doesn’t specifically target older adults; however two elements, Let’s Stop HIV Together, an HIV awareness and anti-stigma campaign targeting all Americans, and Start Talking. Stop HIV.a communication campaign to combat complacency about HIV in the U.S., can be useful resources for the ASN. In addition, the Administration on Aging (AoA) worked with CDC to develop an HIV and aging toolkit, Know the Risks. Get the Facts. containing helpful resources and materials specifically designed to inform older adults about the risks of HIV/AIDS and to encourage them to know their status.
Today, more than ever, HIV prevention and treatment are important issues to older Americans and AoA is taking an active role in ensuring the ASN is equipped to respond. One example includes grant funding AoA issued in September 2012 for the Empowering Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities through Chronic Disease Self-Management Education (CDSME) programs. Of the 22 states who received the three year funding, five selected the Positive Self-Management Program (PSMP); those States were CO, GA, KY, MA and NY (state contact information). The PSMP was one of the nine CDSME programs available for this funding. The PSMP is a workshop for people with HIV given once a week for seven weeks in community settings such as senior centers. Highly participative, it is facilitated by two trained leaders, one or both of whom are non-health professionals living with HIV.