With the great advancements in how HIV is managed and the success of antiretroviral therapies, people living with HIV are aging successfully into their elder years. Additionally, mid- and later-life adults are continuing to become newly infected with HIV. According to the latest CDC surveillance data, 48.8 percent of people living with HIV in the Philadelphia metropolitan area are age 50 or over. An additional 24.6 percent are between the ages of 40-49.
Despite these rates in the older population, issues of HIV and aging largely do not get the attention they need. “HIV has become a manageable disease and therefore is not in the limelight of being an issue, when in fact, infection rates are still out there,” said David Gana, a longtime HIV activist and a member of the LGBT Elder Initiative’s HIV & Aging Community Advisory Committee.
Gana sees the need for more work to destigmatize HIV and to promote sexual wellness for older adults, including increasing awareness of and access to PrEP and PEP. He said that “HIV needs to be in the mainstream of conversation, in the same manner as we would talk about cancer or any other health issue.”
National HIV/AIDS & Aging Awareness Day (NHAAD) is held each year on Sept. 18 to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS and the importance of HIV testing and prevention education for older Americans. First held in 2008, the awareness initiative seeks to educate and inform older adults and service providers about HIV prevention, testing, care and treatment.
Over the past decade, participating organizations nationwide have held educational programs, hosted health fairs and testing events, launched media campaigns and led trainings and webinars. These awareness-raising events have sought to reach people living with HIV/AIDS who are aging with the disease, older adults who need education about HIV-prevention strategies and service providers who work with older-adult populations. NHAAD efforts have also highlighted the increasing number of grandparents who have become the primary guardians for children who have lost a parent to HIV/AIDS.
Given the great progress in HIV treatment and care, more and more people living with HIV are starting to interact with the aging-services system, such as having homecare aides, attending senior centers or moving into senior housing. However, many providers in the aging-services field have not been trained around HIV issues or worked with people living with HIV before, and HIV stigma remains very prevalent in many senior spaces. Additionally, providers are oftentimes unprepared to talk about sexual health with older adults, missing valuable opportunities to promote HIV prevention among older populations.
Katie Young, planner for policy and program development at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), sees events such as NHAAD as important in improving the quality of services available to older adults living with HIV who will be receiving services from the aging-services network.
“Health-care and social-service professionals need to do a better job at remembering sexual wellness as a part of the holistic wellness model,” Young said. “Older adults are sexually active and, unfortunately, contracting STIs at alarming rates. Open, honest conversations need to be a part of all health and wellness services provided to older adults.”
Last year, Young helped PCA launch an HIV & Aging Task Force, working with organizations including Action Wellness and the LGBT Elder Initiative to increase awareness regarding the needs of prevention education and supportive services for those living with HIV and other STIs.
Improving the HIV awareness of the aging-services network and the quality of services available to elders living with HIV, while also helping older adults living with HIV to manage their health and navigate services, will help all people living with HIV to age successfully with the dignity they deserve.
In recognition of National HIV/AIDS & Aging Awareness Day, the LGBT Elder Initiative will host an NHAAD luncheon at noon Sept. 18 at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (642 N. Broad St.). The program will feature a presentation by Dr. John Liantonio, a geriatrician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Liantonio will discuss the potential health risks of aging with HIV and the ways that older adults living with HIV can maintain their independence and successfully manage their social, emotional and physical health needs at any age. This program is being presented through the support of the PCA HIV & Aging Task Force.
David Griffith is the director of programs and outreach for the LGBT Elder Initiative. To learn more about the LGBT Elder Initiative and upcoming programs for LGBT older adults, visit www.lgbtelderinitiative.org.