Friday, September 9, 2011

HIV/AIDS Prevention Campaigns for Seniors and Older Adults on the Streets of NYC

The last couple of weeks I have been looking around New York City for any HIV and AIDS prevention campaigns. I wanted to see who these campaigns are targeting, and if there were any campaigns specifically directed towards older adults and seniors. After a few weeks of intense observing, I found one campaign that is directly focused on older adults. Overall I was a bit surprised over how few HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are out there.

Age is not a condom
Upper west side, NYC

The text under says:

“And if you can’t use one. Tell your doctor”.

3 posters (by Andy Chen Design).

The text under says: “And still using protection. Each & every time”.

“And neither does keeping yourself protected”.

Why have older persons been bypassed when it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention?

People give many answers to this question. Most think of HIV and AIDS as a young person's disease. Older adults and seniors have often been ignored when it comes to HIV / AIDS prevention. As we approach the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, it is important to remember that about 17 percent of the newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in the USA are found in people over the age 50, (according to the CDC report in 2009). About one-third of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the USA are 50 years of age or older. This number is expected to grow to one-half by 2015. The 50 years and older population is the fastest growing population in USA. Older adults and seniors need to know why it is important to protect yourself as you are growing older. The immune system naturally becomes less effective as you age, which can increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Also,
after menopause, women's vaginal tissues thin and natural lubrication decreases. This can increase the risk of micro-tears and of sexual transmission of certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Why so many newly infected older adults and seniors?

There are numerous potential answers to this question. One reason could be that a lot of older adults and seniors feel that it is a taboo to talk about sex. During the time they were growing up sex was not talked about in the same was as it is today. Also, some older persons may not be that knowledgeable about HIV /AIDS and therefore less likely to protect themselves. They may not even perceive themselves as at risk for HIV, so they do not use condoms nor do they get tested for HIV. Another reason can be that the health care professionals may underestimate their older patients’ risk for HIV/AIDS and therefore do not tell them about prevention or offer HIV tests. Symptoms of HIV/AIDS can be misunderstood as symptoms of normal aging, such as fatigue, weight loss and mental confusion.

I don’t think there is one single reason for all the newly HIV infected older adults and seniors. All the above mentioned reasons have created this problem. The good news is that none of it this is unfixable. This is what we need to do: Get more HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns for older adults and seniors. Make HIV testing and prevention conversations an obligation between Health care professionals and their older patients. Start offering Sex Education classes at senior centers, making it less of a taboo.

Let me be clear. I think we should stop thinking people stop having sex after the age of 50, because this is clearly not the case.

Sanna Klemetti.

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