More effective medications are helping AIDS patients live into their 60s. A surprising number of people are becoming infected during their “golden years.”
Sixty-two-year-old Jane got HIV 12 years ago when she began dating after her divorce. “Look at this face, this old, wrinkled face,” says Jane. “This is another face of HIV.” Rather than feeling sorry for herself, Jane says the disease gave her life a new purpose. “We must understand this virus, and we must all understand that everyone is at risk.”
The National Institute on aging says 11 percent of all new AIDS cases are in people over age 50. In fact, groups that are middle-aged and elderly have undergone more of an increase than those under 40.
Jane says, “A favorite comment of mine was in a letter from a middle school girl. She started off by saying, ‘Dear Jane, well I never knew anyone over 50 could have sex.'” Yet they are, and the most common cause of HIV among the elderly is sexual activity.
“The older adult is fighting not only the stigma of HIV, but the stigma of age,” says Jane. Unfortunately, older people’s infections are often undiagnosed by doctors because HIV’s symptoms can be seen as signs of normal aging — fatigue, confusion and loss of appetite.
“Older persons are perhaps more reluctant to talk about their sex lives, and physicians and service providers are reluctant to ask them,” says Jane. She hopes to educate and destroy the stereotypes. So far it’s working.
Doctors say you can never be too safe when it comes to AIDS. The virus does not discriminate and can affect every age, gender and social class.