Intimacy. It happens. People just don’t talk about it. The stigma and aversion of openly discussing sexual health and education is proving to be a problem and a major cause of concern in public health among the aging population. The CDC estimates that in 2005 people over the age of 50 accounted for 15% of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS (CDC, 2005). That segment of the population represents 24% of the total amount of people living with HIV/AIDS, an increase of 7% from 2001 (CDC, 2005).
Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is no longer viewed as a death sentence as it once was. With effective treatment and medication, people are now living longer and carrying out normal everyday activities. So why are they at an increased risk? A review of 17 research studies conducted by Savasta in 2004 suggested three factors that were greatly associated with increased rate of HIV transmission among the aging population. They included: 1) poor and inadequate education regarding HIV and its modes of transmission 2) lack/low perceptivity of risk 3) lack of communication between patients and their primary health care provider (Savasta, 2004).
Adults still want to have fun! People of this age group could be entering the dating scene again, looking to explore and find a partner for emotional support. They may not understand the risk associated with HIV/AIDS and view it only as a youth epidemic. This is partially due to the lack of education programs and resources that are geared towards the aging population. Researchers have found that out of 50 states, only 15 states had public health departments that provided HIV/AIDS prevention materials towards the intended audience (Orel et. al, 2004). With insufficient knowledge, adults are less likely to protect themselves or perceive HIV as a risk, reducing their willingness to engage in safe sex practices or obtain regular screenings (CDC, 2008).
When was the last time you talked to your doctor about your sexual health? It’s not an easy topic to bring up and openly discuss with anyone. Even with physicians, people might find it rather awkward and may even be taboo in certain communities and cultures. The lack of communication between patients and their physicians regarding this issue can create complications. Physicians may misdiagnose HIV/AIDS as some of the symptoms are similar to those of normal aging (CDC, 2008). A physician’s perception that their patient is not at risk for HIV/AIDS diminishes the opportunity to talk to them about their sexual health, HIV prevention, and screenings, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment (CDC, 2008).
Centers for Disease Control. (2008). HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report,
2005. Vol. 17. Rev ed. Atlanta:1–54.
Centers for Disease Control. (2008). HIV/AIDS among Persons Aged 50 and Older. Retrieved on March 5, 2013 from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/over50/resources/factsheets/pdf/over50.pdf
Orel, N.A., Wright, J.M., & Wagner, J. (2004). Scarcity of HIV/AIDS risk-reduction materials targeting the needs of older adults among state departments of public health. The Gerontologist, 44, 693-696.
Savasta, A.M. (2004). HIV: Associated transmission risks in older adults – An integrative review of literature. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 15, 50-59.