Sep 192012
Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Here’s an eye-opening statistic that emerged on National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day: By 2015, more than half of Americans living with HIV – many of them gay men – will be over age 50.

“A major reason for the ‘greying’ of HIV in the U.S. is due to the tremendous success of medications that have dramatically increased the lifespans of people living with HIV,” Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, wrote Tuesday on a White House blog. Colfax was appointed national AIDS policy chief in March.

People 50 and older currently make up about one-third of Americans living with HIV, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet older Americans “are often disconnected from and overlooked in the HIV/AIDS dialogue,” the National Hispanic Council on Aging lamented.

HIV, which causes AIDS, first was identified in 1981. Despite decades of education and awareness, about 10 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. happen among people over 50, Colfax said.

“HIV prevention among older adults is complicated because clinicians are less likely to consider the possibility of HIV infection in this population,” Colfax said. “Part of the reason for this is that the overwhelming majority of new HIV infections in the U.S. occur among younger populations. However, decreased testing rates mean that older adults are more likely than younger adults to be diagnosed later in their disease progression … .”

Although more people who are growing older with HIV are living healthier, more productive lives than ever before, Colfax said, growing older with HIV may present several health care challenges. Those challenges include a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

The AIDS Institute, which sponsors National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, said some of the reasons that older Americans may not be aware of their HIV status are:

  • Health care providers don’t always test older people for HIV.
  • Older people may mistake signs of HIV or AIDS for the normal aches and pains associated with aging.
  • Older people are less likely than younger people to get tested.
  • Health care providers may not ask older patients about their sex lives or drug use or talk to them about risky behavior.
  • The stigma of HIV and AIDS may be more severe among older people, causing them to avoid getting tested.

“HIV prevention strategies are critical, especially among the aging population,” said Michelle Scavnicky, director of education at The AIDS Institute. “Events planned on or around National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day provide a unique opportunity to reach older adults as a ‘nontraditional’ at-risk target audience through HIV prevention efforts, including HIV education, testing, and resources for HIV care and treatment.”

John Egan

PHOTO: Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy