Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Older Women Need to Know about HIV AIDS

Jane P. Fowler, Director of HIV Wisdom for Older Persons, tells us why older women don't know that they can easily get infected with HIV.
  • Rates of HIV infection (not AIDS) in all seniors, including women, are especially difficult to determine because older people are not routinely tested.
  • Older people, especially women, with HIV/AIDS face a double stigma: ageism and infection with a sexually or drug-injecting transmitted disease; in addition, they are sensitive to a cultural attitude that assumes: "Elderly people have lived their lives -- so what if they die from AIDS?"
  • Seniors of both sexes are unlikely to use condoms during sex because of a generational mindset and unfamiliarity with HIV/STD prevention methods.
  • For older women, there are special considerations: after menopause, condom use for birth control becomes unimportant, and normal aging changes such as a decrease in vaginal lubrication and thinning vaginal walls can put them at higher risk during unprotected sexual intercourse.
  • As HIV symptoms often are similar to those associated with aging (fatigue, weight loss, dementia, skin rashes, swollen lymph nodes), misdiagnosis is frequent in older women/people who are, in fact, infected.
  • Women and older males may confront social and professional bias regarding the allocation of limited health care services and resources available to the AIDS community (i.e., "why waste money on the elderly?")
  • Because the aging process itself lowers energy levels and results in restrictions in social routines which can cause emotional/psychological problems, the older woman/adult additionally infected with HIV may feel another "loss" and endure more severe depression.
  • Senior women often are less likely to find support and comfort among family and friends, and because they are traditionally not comfortable in support groups, they may be less inclined to join them, citing lack of shared experiences concerning different issues.
  • Due to the general lack of awareness of HIV/AIDS in older adults -- in particular, women -- this segment of the population, for the most part, has been omitted from research, clinical drug trials, educational prevention programs and intervention efforts.
Women, please heed this information: Get tested and protect yourself. 

Susanne Paul for Global Action on Aging


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