Why HIV testing makes sense for Boomers
Despite our collective efforts to take care of ourselves as we age, it turns out that people 50 and older may be missing an important step in staying healthy: HIV testing.
That’s what today’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day is all about. Why? Because about a quarter of the people currently living with HIV in the United States don’t know they have the disease.
That’s a lot. And of the approximately one million people living with HIV in the United States, 24% are 50 or older, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even more worrisome, by 2015 the CDC expects over half of Americans living with HIV to be 50 or older.
So, what’s going on here?
For one, people are living longer with HIV. Newer medications like highly active anti-retroviral treatments (HAART) are helping people with HIV to live into and past their 50s. But that’s not the only reason for the climbing rates of HIV in the 50+ crowd…
Unfortunately, older people aren’t as likely to get tested for HIV. Many people think that once they’re in their 50s with no sign of sexually transmitted infections, they’re home free…but not so. In fact, it’s common for people to live with HIV infection for more than a decade before experiencing any signs or symptoms of disease…so getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you’re infected.
Doctors may be to blame, too. Doctors of older patients aren’t as likely to diagnose HIV infection in a patient who has early HIV symptoms. Why?
In part, some doctors and patients mistake symptoms of HIV infection with typical symptoms of getting older. And some doctors may wrongly assume that the 50+ gang isn’t having sex…which isn’t necessarily true. While sexual activity does decrease as people get older, by no means does it end. And, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, people over 45 are least likely to use condoms ⎼ a major risk factor for HIV.
The bottom line is that people over 50 aren’t immune to HIV…and as the percentage of people with HIV in this demographic grows, National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day is an important reminder to get tested (and to use a condom the next time you have sex).
Remember, HIV testing may sound scary…but it’s easier than you may think. And if it turns out that you’re HIV-positive, the sooner you start treatment, the longer you’ll stay healthy.
- AIDS Institute: HIV/AIDS and Older Adults
- CDC: HIV/AIDS…What Persons Aged 50 and Older Can Do
- MedlinePlus: Older Women Can Benefit From Sex Ed Campaigns
- National Prevention Information Network: Sexual Health an Issue for Boomers
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging: Senior and HIV/AIDS