Many medical and health care professionals are just beginning to understand the issues surrounding HIV AIDS and the elderly.
HIV AIDS Cases Increasing in Older People
For many years the seriousness and prevalence of HIV AIDS among older senior citizens was not completely understood. However, in the last two decades, statistics show a marked increase in the number of cases of HIV AIDS in older people. While most research refers to older adults as anyone over the age of fifty, the studies show that many new cases are also diagnosed in seniors over the age of sixty-five.
- The percentage of all people in the United States with HIV AIDS aged fifty or over has risen from seventeen percent to twenty-nine percent from 2001 to 2010. In some cities the number is as high as thirty-seven percent.
- In the year 2008, the number of estimated diagnosed HIV AIDS cases of older senior citizens was approximately 862 for individuals aged sixty-five or older. There were an estimated 1,140 cases of HIV AIDS diagnosed in people aged sixty to sixty-four, 2,242 cases for seniors aged fifty-five to fifty-nine and 3,946 cases for individuals aged fifty to fifty-five.
- The numbers of diagnosed HIV AIDS cases in older women past the age of menopause has continued to rise each year. For example, in the five-year period from 1998 to 2003 the number of diagnosed cases increased by more than forty percent.
HIV AIDS and the Elderly
The senior citizens infected with HIV AIDS fall into three different categories:
- Those individuals that were previously diagnosed as HIV positive at an earlier age and have been living with the virus.
- Those individuals that have had the virus for a long time but were unaware of it.
- Those individuals that have been recently infected with the virus. Approximately fifty percent of older individuals that have HIV AIDS have been infected with the virus for less than one year.
Causes of Increasing Numbers
There are many reasons that the numbers of diagnosed cases of HIV AIDS is steadily increasing among seniors and the elderly.
- As research continues and treatments and medications are developed, many people diagnosed with HIV AIDS are living longer.
- HIV AIDS was often considered to be a virus that affected younger people and many older people did not think that they could be at risk of contracting the virus. In addition, many medical practitioners and health care providers did not test older people for the HIV virus.
- HIV and AIDS awareness and education is rarely given to older people, which causes them to be unaware of the risk factors of contracting the HIV virus and how to protect themselves from unsafe sexual activities.
- Medical professionals may fail to diagnose an HIV infection in the early stages of older patients since many of the symptoms often appear as normal signs of aging.
- Many older people that are newly divorced or have lost their partners may become sexually active without being aware of the dangers of HIV. During their previous relationship they were not concerned with the possibility of contracting the HIV virus and may not be aware of the importance of practicing safe sex.
Effects of HIV AIDS
Although early research involving older HIV AIDS patients indicated that older people seemed to become sick faster and die more quickly than younger patients, newer research indicates that seniors and the elderly respond very well to antiretroviral treatments. However, many people in this age group that are infected with HIV AIDS also have additional health problems, causing their immune systems to be weakened further.
It is known that the CD4 cell levels of older patients recover at a much slower rate then the CD4 levels of younger people infected with HIV. In many cases, HIV AIDS seems to speed up the progression of other existing physical and mental health problems of older seniors and the elderly including:
- Heart Disease
- Kidney problems
- High blood pressure
- Alzheimer's Disease
The side effects of HIV AIDS treatments often worsen as aging progresses.
Hope for the Future
As researchers continue making progress regarding HIV AIDS and the elderly, and as doctors and patients become more aware of the virus spreading among the elderly, there will hopefully be a decrease in the number of diagnosed cases in the coming years.