Nearly half of those in the U.S living with diagnosed HIV are aged 50 and older, according to the CDC. Older generations are more likely than younger generations to have late-stage HIV infection at the time of diagnosis. This means that treatment occurs later and they can possibly suffer more damage to their immune systems.
There are many possible reasons why late diagnoses occur. One reason could be that health care providers might not be testing older people for HIV infection. Another common reason is that some older people may not consider themselves at risk of infection, or they may even mistake HIV symptoms for those of the normal aging process. The CDC reports that among people aged 55 and older who received an HIV diagnosis in 2015, 50% have had HIV for four and a half years before receiving an official diagnosis. That is the longest delay for any age group in their study.
Older people typically have most of the same risk factors as younger people, including a lack of knowledge about HIV prevention and sexual risk, including having multiple partners. Older people however, face some unique issues.
- Women that longer worry about preventing pregnant can be less likely to use condoms or other methods of practicing safer sex. Additionally, age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue also may raise the risk for HIV in older women.
- Although it’s common for older people to visit doctors more frequently than younger people, they are less likely to discuss their sexual or drug use behaviors.
Aging with HIV also presents additional challenges for preventing other diseases. Age and HIV both increase a person’s risk for health conditions like cardiovascular disease, bone loss, or even certain cancers. Older HIV patients and their health care providers need to make sure they keep an eye out for early signs of illness. Mindfulness about medical interactions between those used to treat HIV and common age-related conditions (hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, obesity, etc.) is also extremely important.