HIV in People Over 50
The possibility of becoming infected with an incurable disease never occurred to Jane Fowler. After her divorce, Jane had a sexual relationship with an old family friend. A blood test for an insurance policy alerted the 55-year-old that she was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
What Is HIV/AIDS?The HIV virus weakens the body's immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infections, cancers, and other diseases. People infected with HIV may appear perfectly healthy and may not suffer from any serious symptoms for years. But these people can pass the virus to others through sexual activity or sharing of needles. Casual contact however, does not increase risk. The virus lives in bodily fluids, not on physical objects or body surfaces, so activities such as sharing silverware, hugging, using a public toilet, or shaking hands do not increase your risk of contracting the virus.
Older Adults Less Knowledgeable of the RisksIn general, older adults remain less knowledgeable than teens and young adults about the virus, its risks, and the ways to prevent it. Jane is doing her part to educate older adults by taking to the road and sharing her story. She also founded an organization called HIV Wisdom for Older Women.
PreventionMany successful prevention programs have been administered to people in retirement communities, at health fairs, as well as other places older adults gather. The programs use age-appropriate materials and adapt public outreach messages to address the needs of an older audience. They also recruit older adults to pass along the message, and to create a dialogue and atmosphere where people are comfortable asking questions. There are several ways to reduce risk for contracting HIV, including:
- Keep condoms handy and always use a latex condom during sex with someone whose disease status you do not know. Think of it as having sex with everyone your partner has ever had sex with.
- Learn how to use a condom properly and consistently.
- Learn how to talk about sex and to negotiate protective barriers with potential partners.
- Do not share needles.