Saturday, December 1st was World AIDS Day, a day dedicated to bringing people across the globe together to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and move forwards towards a cure.
When people think of populations most affected by AIDS, older adults are often last on the list. But in fact, older adults are being diagnosed with AIDS in growing numbers.
In the years from 2001 to 2010, the percentage of people in the United States with HIV/AIDS has risen from seventeen percent to twenty-nine percent, according to the CDC.
Why is the number of older adults with HIV/AIDS growing?
- As treatments improve, people with AIDS are living longer, increasing the number of people with AIDS in the “age 50+” category.
- Many older adults are sexually active. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 73% of those aged 57-64 had had sex during the past year.
- Sexually active older adults may not consider themselves at risk for AIDS. Older adults, especially those becoming sexually active again after a divorce or death of a spouse, may not take the right preventative measures to protect themselves and their partners from HIV/AIDS.
- HIV/AIDS education is often aimed at younger people, meaning that older adults are poorly educated about the risks, and may have misconceptions.
- Many older adults do not use condoms when having sex. One study showed that almost sixty percent of older single women who had been sexually active in the past 10 years had engaged in sex without a condom.
- Older adults sometimes confuse the symptoms of AIDS with normal signs of aging, and don’t get treated.
- The stigma of HIV/AIDS may be strong among the population of older adults, making it difficult for sexual partners to initiate conversation about their risks and prevention.
What can older adults do to prevent AIDS?
- Abstain from having sex until you’re in a monogamous relationship, and know the other person’s HIV status.
- Talk about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV with each new partner. Always consider the risks of a person’s past behavior to your health before you have sex. If you do decide to have sex, use a condom.
- Even if you think you are at low risk for HIV, talk with your health care provider about your sexual activity and get tested at your regular medical check-up.
- If you think you may have been exposed to another STD (such as gonorrhea or syphilis), get tested and treatment if appropriate. The presence of these diseases in your sexual partners may place you at increased risk of getting HIV.
It’s important to recognize that HIV/AIDS is not just a disease of the young. But if you’re aware of the risks and take the proper precautions, you can enjoy a happy and healthy sex life well into your golden years.