Longer life expectancy, lack of safer sex knowledge, practicesamong older Americans suggested as reasons for increase
HIV cases in persons aged 50 and over have increased by more than 40 percent nationwide since 2001, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released earlier this month.
Myron Gold, HIV activist and board member of the nation’s premier group on the issue — the New York Association on HIV Over Fifty, said "It’s going to become the prominent age for HIV. The CDC has already estimated that by 2010, 50 percent of cases will be over the age of 50."
Like most experts in the field, Gold says the No. 1 reason for the increase is simply because people are living longer with HIV due to advances in highly active antiretroviral therapy. But Steven Pace, executive director of AIDS Interfaith Network in Dallas, has seen the increase first hand and has a different idea.
"Not only have we had about a 50 percent growth in clientele over the age of 50 in just the last year, but this is my age group as well," Pace said. "Here are these people who are beginning to lose their partners and return to increased sexual activity with multiple people, but they where never trained on HIV precautions. When we were young and dating before, HIV didn’t exist."
In fact, a 2005 study by Emory University found that only 13 percent of women over the age of 50 think condoms are an effective prevention method for HIV but about half wrongly believe vasectomies provide protection.
The CDC also suggests another possibility.
"Health care professionals may underestimate their older patients’ risk for HIV/AIDS and thus may miss opportunities to deliver prevention messages, offer HIV testing or make an early diagnosis that could help their patients get early care," the report reads.
Raeline Nobles, executive director of Dallas’ AIDS Arms Inc., says her organization has also shown a significant increase in older clients. And she says, no matter why the increase happened, being over the age of 50 provides complications in treating HIV.
"It can really hinder what doctors can do with HIV healthcare because they have to consider how the medicines will interact with pills for high blood pressure, cardio problems and all those other side effects of aging," Nobles said.
In order to help curb the increase Gold has been working with the rest of NYAHOF to get the word out about the growing cases of HIV over 50.
"Prevention efforts had been completely ignored for this group until about a year or two ago. I fought with the CDC over this issue because the government didn’t see the importance of educating them," Gold said. "But that’s changing in 2008."
This year the group got a $1million grant to put towards HIV education for older adults in NYC. Gold says the next step is to seek nationwide funding for the issue.
But in the meantime, Nobles had this message for people over the age of 50: "AIDS is for everyone," she said. "The virus doesn’t care what age you are. That means everyone should practice safe sex no matter if you’re young or old."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 14, 2008