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HIV and STDs on Rise for Seniors

by Jeff Dailey
HIV and STDs on Rise for Seniors

HIV and STDs on Rise for Seniors

Single Seniors Take Heed; the Subject Nobody Wants to Talk About
HIV and STDs on Rise for SeniorsAs recently as 2012, and this may come as a surprise, the CDC reported that adults aged 55 and over accounted for 24% of the total population of those living with HIV. You may be thinking these people contracted HIV when they were younger, and have simply aged with the disease, but this is not the case. No matter what your age, 24 or 65, you have the same risk factors as anyone else when it comes to getting HIV or STDs. The only difference is that seniors may be less aware that STDs are on the rise for older Americans.
Get ready for some more statistics, because in 2013 (the last year reported) people aged 50+ made up 21% of the total new HIV diagnoses. In the same report, the CDC found that people 50 and older accounted for 27% of the total new AIDS diagnoses, and 37% of the total AIDS related deaths.
The major concern with older adults contracting HIV is that they are far less likely to be tested than their younger, sexually active counterparts. Delayed diagnosis results in treatment starting at a much later phase of the disease’s course. Older people also have a much stronger stigma against HIV and STDs in general, further preventing them from receiving treatment or even more importantly, disclosing their status.
There are a few other unique factors that have led to the rise in STDs and HIV in older adults.

  • Post-menopausal women are no longer afraid of pregnancy so safe sex becomes less of a concern. STDs are usually not associated with their peer group.
  • Sexual education in the United States is already pretty dismal, but baby boomers had little to no access to it when they were in school. It has existed in lesser forms since the 1960s, but mired in controversy, teaching STD prevention has really only been mandatory since the 1980s.
  • Doctors often misdiagnose early symptoms of HIV—tiredness, weakness, and foggy memory—as normal signs of aging. As we know, catching HIV in its early stages is immensely important.
  • Again, because of the stigma of HIV, older adults are far less likely to ask their doctors for an HIV test. Doctors rarely push the issue because they’re either uncomfortable with the topic or may not think the patient is sexually active.
  • For post-menopausal women, the natural dryness and thinning of vaginal tissue may increase their susceptibility to infection.

Even beyond HIV, less dangerous STDs among seniors are on the rise as well. For the first time since 2006, the CDC has reported a rise in STD cases across the board so it’s not a problem exclusive to older adults, but there are measures that seniors should be taking, i.e. wearing condoms! The 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that condoms were only used in about 6% of sexual encounters between adults 61+.
Besides wearing condoms, seniors need to take advantage of Medicare’s free STD checkup and get past the stigma when speaking to their doctor. Medicare reported that only 5% of those insured through Medicare took advantage of the STD check. As with younger adults, knowing your status allows you to receive treatment quickly and contain possible outbreaks, which can spread throughout independent living centers, assisted living facilities, or retirement communities.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager of Senior Planning in Phoenix, Arizona. Senior Planning offers free aid to seniors, the disabled, and veterans who are looking for benefits or care options.

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