This Friday, Sept. 18 is the Eighth annual National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. There will be a two-tier focus this year. The first will look at the challenges that come with being HIV positive in an aging community. The other highlights the importance of knowing your status.
This year’s annual observance increases as the number of people aged 50 and older who are living with HIV continues to increase. According to the Florida Department of Health, in 2014, 23 percent (N=1,434) of all new HIV infections reported in Florida were among persons aged 50 or older. Over the past ten years, 71 percent or more of newly reported HIV infection cases among persons aged 50 or older were male.
“I feel that that population has been done a disservice to themselves by not utilizing the vast array of services available to them to keep themselves HIV negative,” said Lorenzo Robertson, Emerging Programs Coordinator at the Pride Center Equality Park. “I think that there is a desire in that population that may suffer from condom fatigue and the unfortunate inevitability of becoming HIV positive. There is still that unfortunate behavior of the population that contributes to their HIV sero-conversion later in life. There are still those that still want to live their life on their terms, by living like HIV is not a reality, or that they are somehow immune to becoming HIV positive.”
Of all the living HIV/AIDS cases in Florida among persons age 50 or older reported through 2013, 55 percent were diagnosed from the following three counties:
- Miami-Dade 28%
- Broward 18%
- Palm Beach 9%
Of the 1,422 deaths of persons with HIV infection in 2013, over three-fifths (63 percent) were among persons aged 50 or older.
There are several reasons attributed for this disproportionate number of infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control, older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to be diagnosed with HIV infection late in the course of their disease, meaning a late start to treatment and possibly more damage to their immune system. This can lead to poorer prognoses and shorter survival after an HIV diagnosis. Late diagnoses can occur because health care providers may not always test older people for HIV infection, and older people may mistake HIV symptoms for those of normal aging and don't consider HIV as a cause.
The CDC also reports many older Americans are sexually active, including those who are infected with HIV, and have many of the same risk factors for HIV infection as younger Americans, including a lack of knowledge about HIV and how to prevent transmission, and multiple partners. Older people also face unique issues, including:
- Many widowed and divorced people are dating again, and they may be less knowledgeable about HIV than younger people, and less likely to protect themselves.
- Women who no longer worry about getting pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and to practice safer sex. Age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue may raise older women's risk for HIV infection.
- The availability of erectile dysfunction medications may facilitate sex for older men who otherwise would not have been capable of vaginal or anal intercourse.
- Although they visit their doctors more frequently, older Americans are less likely than younger Americans to discuss their sexual habits or drug use with their doctors, who in turn may be less likely to ask their older patients about these issues.
But Robertson says other factors are also to blame for the higher rates of infection.
“Some of it is contributed by their desire to have condomless sex. That is the type of sex that they were accustomed to having in their past and still want to do it even with all the available information about the high rates of HIV infection and the high rates of infection among their age group,” he said. “In the Black community stigma about being HIV positive and homosexuality are two of the driving forces of stigma that still impacts those communities. Stigma is one of those areas that we still do not address in Black communities. Stigma and internalized homophobia are some of the intrinsic aspects of impacting higher rates of HIV in Black communities.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, there are also several misconceptions about HIV/AIDS involving people aged 50 and over including:
- HIV/AIDS in the U.S. is generally regarded as a young person’s disease.
- HIV/AIDS heavily affects only those in young adulthood and early middle age.
- Persons over 50 are not at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Robertson knows the risk first hand.
“I was diagnosed with AIDS and not HIV. That in itself demonstrates that need for early detection of your HIV status and knowing your HIV status. From the first day of knowing my HIV status it just reinforced that fact that I have to live my life for me and not allow my life to be dictated by HIV,” he said. “I have not had any major complications for my experience living with HIV. I am really blessed with great health and a very supportive husband and family. Things that some people feel cannot happen if you are HIV positive.”
It is important to get tested regularly, regardless of age. Early diagnosis is crucial in combating complications that may arise from HIV and it's progression into AIDS. It is never too late to get tested and learn how to protect yourself. Know your status and take control of your health. There are several locations in South Florida that are holding special testing events. Here are a few:
2040 North Dixie Highway,Wilton Manors, FL 33305
September 15th -18th 2015 10:00am-8:30pm Free HIV Testing and Counseling
Free Tote bag for anyone over 50 who receives a Free HIV Test.
The Pride Center will post daily content on HIV and Aging on social media forums: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram
Prevention messages will be displayed on dating apps (Growlr, etc)
Care Resource (Two locations)
871 West Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311
3510 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33137
Care Resource is offering free wellness screenings to new clients over the age of 45 without private or government insurance throughout the month of September. This promotion includes screenings for diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure, and to redeem it, one MUST first make an appointment. Please call 305-576-1234 EXT: 470 (English) and 471 (Spanish).On Sept. 18, free HIV/AIDS recipients at the Oakland Park or Biscayne Blvd locations will free a complimentary grocery gift card. For HIV testing, walk-ins are accepted and no appointment is necessary.
Visit CareResource.org for more information
201 N. Dixie Highway Lake Worth, FL 33460
In Palm Beach County, Compass is extending its testing hours and will give out information about HIV and aging. Visit CompassGLCC.com/about.html for more information.
To find a location near you, AIDS.gov has provided a first-of-its-kind, location-based search tool that allows you to search for testing services, health centers and other service providers near your current location.