National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day

National HIV/AIDS Aging Awareness Day (NHAAAD) is a way to highlight the growing number of people living long and full lives with HIV. NHAAAD is also a time to call attention to aging-related challenges of HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care.

According to the CDC, nearly half of people living in the United States with diagnosed HIV were aged 50 and older as of 2016. The National Institute on Aging notes that “aging” does not refer to a specific number of years lived, but rather the changes in the body like decline of physical ability and health that occurs once a person reaches later life.[1] Many organization use age 50 or 55 to track health-related statistics of older populations.

The number of older people living with HIV continues to grow due to two factors:

  • HIV treatment allows people to lead longer, healthier lives with HIV

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. ART helps people with HIV live healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission. People with HIV were found to have chronically inflamed immune systems. Inflammation in the immune system can lead to complications with major organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. ART helps in reducing inflammation significantly, but cannot block it completely.[2]

Prior to the late 1990s, most people with HIV died too young and too quickly for studies to know the long-term effects of chronic inflammation. With the prevalence of ART, researchers will be able to study the effects of chronic inflammation in people living with HIV.

  • While most new HIV cases occur in young people, people over 50 are acquiring HIV at increasing rates.

In 2017, about 1 in 6 diagnoses were among people aged 50 and older.[3] Older people in the US are more likely than younger people to receive a late-stage diagnosis, meaning they have been unknowingly living with the virus for a significant amount of time, usually three years or more. This causes them to have a lower CD4 count at diagnoses and possibly suffer more immune system damage than those diagnosed sooner. In fact, among people aged 55 and older who received an HIV diagnosis, 50% had been living with HIV for at least 4.5 before being diagnosed.[4]

The CDC finds that many older people have the same risk factors as younger people, including a lack of knowledge about HIV prevention and sexual risk, but they are brought about by different circumstances. For example, post-menopausal women who are no longer worried about becoming pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and practice safer sex.[5] While younger women may also be unconcerned about condom use and pregnancy while on a form of birth control, older women are at a greater risk because of thinner vaginal walls and a drier vagina.[6] This can lead to tearing in the vaginal area which can increase the risk of acquiring HIV.

Part of the CDC’s High Impact HIV Prevention plan includes access to HIV testing, linkage to care, and prevention services. Caring Communities works hard to provide access to these services throughout our twelve-county service area. We offer free and confidential HIV/STD testing in four different office locations and at various agencies and businesses serving those at highest risk. We also offer free link-to-care and case management services for those living with HIV/AIDS who may need help navigating the healthcare system. Additionally, all of our offices stock free condoms. Research shows that increasing the availability of condoms is associated with a reduction in HIV risk.[7] Our Community Educator has also staffed information tables at health fairs and events related toward older adults, to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS risks and resources among this community.