aidsoversixty

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Anne Springer, Gloucester Times: If you’re over 50 and having hanky-panky, you need to think about HIV/AIDS

If you’re over 50 and having hanky-panky, you need to think about HIV/AIDS
by Anne Springer, Senior Lookout, September 8, 2011

As this column is being written, Google is running a 90-second tribute to the late Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock band Queen, as the daily Google doodle on the home page. Mercury would have been 65 years old this year, had he not passed away from complications of HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in 1991. As hard as it is to think of rock legends turning 65, it’s even harder for many of us to think that AIDS is not just a disease of the young.

But, according to the federal Administration on Aging (AoA), by 2015, just four short years from now, it is expected that half the people living with AIDS will be 50 or older. Currently, more than 15 percent of all new cases are among those who have reached their 50th birthday and beyond. That’s why the AoA is urging that older people become better educated about how to prevent infection. Despite being an “aging” organization, it suggests social media as a way to get the word out, asking that others do the same. The AoA Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/AoA.gov) page is one way it suggests that people can remain current. It urges people to “like” the page and share it with friends, so that they can be updated not just on HIV/AIDS, but on all issues facing us as we become older Americans.

Sometimes doctors do not discuss sex, sexually transmitted diseases, or drug use with older patients, yet older patients sometimes have limited knowledge about HIV and do participate in activities that put them at risk. Only about a third of older men and a fifth of older women brought up the subject of sex with their physicians after age 50. Yet a 2007 national survey showed that a majority of older Americans age 57 to 85 are still sexually active.

One of the dangers is that older people may not have enough information about HIV/AIDS at a time when they may be entering new relationships after being widowed, for example, and be less likely to understand the need to protect themselves.

Everyone who is sexually active, or who partakes in any at-risk behavior, should know their HIV status, so that they can receive early treatment, or take steps to protect others if they have been exposed.

Older people are often more embarrassed about bringing up the subject of condom use, or testing, since sexual matters were not discussed as freely when they were growing up, and it still may make them uncomfortable. But, even if people are past the age when they need to worry about unintended pregnancies, it is still necessary to protect oneself from sexually transmitted diseases by using a latex condom during sexual relations. People who are allergic to latex may be able to obtain polyurethane condoms. However, condoms made of natural membranes, such as lambskin, are not effective against HIV. The good news about testing is that confidential HIV testing is available. People can find a test site by visiting: http://www.hivtest.org, or by calling Health and Education Services in Gloucester at 978-283-0296 or by calling the Centers for Disease Control at 1-800-232-4636 (Hearing impaired may call TTY 1-888-232-6348) to find an out-of-town site.

If you are HIV positive, your situation may not be as dire as it was during the 1980s. Even though there is no cure, there are treatments that can help you stay healthy, and the earlier you begin treatment the better. Knowing your status can help you take the steps you need to take to prevent transmitting the disease to someone else.

Even if you are not at risk, helping to get the word out might just save another person. Go “like” that Facebook page and spread the word, not the illness.

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.

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