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Act to Prevent HIV/AIDS in Older Adults

For decades prevention programs have been aimed at younger adults, but only a handful have been directed toward older adults.  Simply putting pictures of people with gray hair on posters that say "Stop AIDS" or " Wear a Condom" or "Practice 'Safe Sex'" (without saying what 'safe sex' is) isn't likely to prevent infection in older adults.  Ory, Zablotsky and Crystal (1998) said that a "dedicated effort is needed to identify older people's AIDS-related risk behaviors and to develop educational approaches and preventive strategies for modifying any risky behavior."Reference

"Prevention has always been the neglected stepchild in terms of funding, compared to biomedical research."Reference(NY Times)

Challenges to Prevention for Older Adults:Reference 

  • “People over 50 years of age are much less likely to adopt HIV prevention strategies than are younger people who engage in the same behavioral risks."
  • "HIV and AIDS are seldom discussed within this community."
  • "Older Americans are not suspected of drug use."
  • "Many are sexually active, often demonstrating risky sexual behaviors, not using protection, using IV drugs, and sharing needles, which places them at high risk for transmission of HIV."
  • "Evidence points to many infected older people contracting the disease through same-gender sexual contact."
  • "In addition, older people are often finding themselves dating again due to being widowed or divorced and are engaging in sexual activity without protection."
  • "Prevention, counseling, testing and education efforts are not being directed their way, and this problem needs to be addressed in the health care profession.”

Red Arrow Video: Pat 5
Video A man who realized he was a homosexual when he was young and who speaks of prejudice and his infection with HIV.  Pat was given four months to live when he was diagnosed, but he has learned to live with HIV with the support of his family.

Click here to read a transcript. >>

*You will need the Quicktime player to view this video. Download the latest version for free on the Quicktime website.

Factors That Must Be Considered in Prevention Programs for Older Adults:Reference

  • “Prevention programs that work are likely to be those that are relatively intensive;
  • that provide attention to
    • change motivation,
    • attitudes,
    • behavioral skills,
    • self-management strategies, and
    • personal risk reduction problem-solving; and
  • that have ongoing mechanisms to reinforce clients’ efforts to change and to problem solve in areas that create difficulties.
  • Moreover, effective intervention programs are those that are carefully tailored to the cultural, lifestyle, relationship and normative beliefs and values of clients
  • Gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and relationship values of clients are factors that influence the objectives, content, and issues that must be addressed in effective HIV prevention interventions.”

Important Things to Remember:

  • Do NOT assume your patients are not at risk.
  • Give prevention messages to patients.  Repeat the messages at regular intervals
  • Teach other professionals to increase awareness of the risk to older adults.
  • Work with other professionals to inform the older adult community.
  • Test for HIV infection when there are unexplained symptoms.