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Highlighting HIV Issues Among Older Americans

Over 1 million Americans are living with HIV and the number is growing. Advances in medication have not only increased the lifespan for people living with HIV, but also the quality of our lives.  Despite this good news, it has also brought new challenges that were not anticipated back when being diagnosed with HIV carried a prognosis of a much shorter lifespan. One of the most surprising aspects of the domestic HIV epidemic is the number of people aging with HIV. Earlier this year, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that 75% people living with HIV in the city were 40 years old or older and 37% were 50 years of age and older.  This phenomenon is not just taking place in New York City—similar demographic trends are being observed nationally.  According to experts at Yale Medical school, is estimated that 50% of people living with HIV in the US will be 50 years old or more by 2017. Moreover, 31% of new HIV infections in the United States each year occur among those between the ages of 40 and 49 and 7% of new infections occur among those 50 years old and older. 

This week the White House Office of National AIDS Policy convened a meeting on HIV and aging to discuss these demographic trends. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness about people who are aging with HIV or contracting HIV as seniors (>50 years of age); to explore unique clinical manifestations of HIV infection among older adults; to discuss existing services for seniors living with HIV and highlight successes as well as gaps; and to discuss targeted strategies for Federal and non-Federal stakeholders to realize the vision of the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The meeting was part of a series of discussions that have been convened at the White House over the past year, including meetings that have focused on women, youth, Latinos and other populations. 

The White House HIV and aging meeting agenda included an epidemiological and clinical overview of older Americans (age 50 or older) by Dr. Amy Justice of Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Justice discussed findings from various research studies and the complications of managing a chronic infection and the commorbid conditions related to the aging process.  This was followed by a panel discussion of people of various demographic backgrounds who are aging with HIV, and complemented by a video clip from ABC’s popular television series Brothers & Sisters where executive producer David Marshall Grant and actor Ron Rifkin discussed the storyline behind a major character on the show who is a senior and diagnosed with HIV. 

A panel of Federal officials provided information on prevention, care, research, disability, legal and workforce issues related to people aging with HIV; and a final community panel further explored these issues at the local level.  A highlight of the meeting included recognizing Dr. Robert Franke, a retired university provost and Unitarian Universalist minister who is living with HIV and who recently won a discrimination lawsuit against a Arkansas nursing home.

The meeting ended with a clear message that older age is not a safety net that protects people from getting HIV and that people are living with HIV for decades.  It was also clear that the many issues surrounding HIV among older adults will only increase as our country faces the continuing graying of our nation’s HIV epidemic.

Comments

  1. kemi Olubajo says:

    I’m happy there is focus on the issue of HIV and aging. With an aging and somewhat vibrant population we can expect an increased number of new infections in retirement communities and assisted living facilities.
    We need national campaign to address prevention in this population group.
    Treating HIV in this group will become more challenging because they already have many co-morbidities.

  2. what are the best funding mechanisms for people living with AIDS programs like ours that feeds a Saturday night rest. quality meal to all ages, and from all burrows of New York City.

  3. I would agree with the first commenter. I’d add a general social marketing awareness campaign as well as a targeted population-specific health promotion campiagn.

  4. Erin Stevenson says:

    I’m now in my 30th year with HIV/AIDS. I know this because when the CDC finally found a spine and issued its “presenting symptoms” in 1984, I had already experienced them and had attracted the attention of numerous doctors who would pursue me at work to schedule another visit…most of which I had to turn down as I could not afford them. Biggest issue was going out on disability in 1994-really through me off course, adversely affected my retirement fund, and more to the point, really destroyed my ability to plan for a future I did not know I had, and now that I am approaching 65, it is really devastating to my current lifestyle, income, quality of life and numerous other issues. I’m at a loss as to what to do-there’s no jobs, my house is worth much less than it was a couple of years ago, my income will no longer support my mortgage payments and any thought of being able to make a significant contribution to society evaporated with my diagnosis.

  5. I’m also glad to see awareness of this issue in older people. Most never got the education awareness in their teens and twenties because it wasn’t even around then. The other component is usually birth control isn’t an issue by then so the thought of any STI may be a foreign one.

  6. Its so important that older generations be educated on issues that weren’t around when they were growing up. Very happy to see this!!

  7. Mr. Erin Stevenson, your story is reflected in many of your generation. My uncle has been through a similar experience. As the boomers reach their 50’s and 60’s, my sincere hope is they will demand better care from the government.
    I’d love to be part of any awareness initiative for AIDs in this age bracket as i’m sure many others would too.

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