Boomers/seniors are contracting HIV/AID in larger numbers than any other segment of the population. One reason is more seniors are dating and becoming sexually active due to better health in older age. However with better health becomes more responsibilities and seniors must learn about ways to practice safe sex.
Most people believe that HIV/AIDS is a condition of gay and bisexual men, women of color, and drug users. The latest statistics reveal that trend has shifted to a totally unexpected population segment; the over 50’s age group. According statistics published for 2013 by the Center for Disease Control, people aged 50 and older accounted for 18% of all people diagnosed with HIV and that number is increasing.
Many Older people/Boomers are still sexually active
There are many reasons for this shift. Many widowed and divorced seniors are dating again and are sexually active. The increasing numbers of dating websites attest to this fact. A proliferation of articles on how to enjoy sex at any age encourages this trend.
However this new freedom has some unforeseen and unrecognized consequences of unprotected sex. Here are four basic reasons for this trend.
- This population initially became sexually active in the 60’s before the advent of HIV/AIDS became a cause for concern. As a result older men and women are less likely to consider themselves at risk for sexually transmitted diseases and do not take necessary precautions.
- Older women are no longer concerned with pregnancy and do not feel the need for birth control. They still equate condoms with birth control rather than using them as preventative measure against sexually transmitted disease.
- With the introduction of such drugs as Viagra, and other drugs that assist with erectile dysfunction, older men are free to be less inhibited about having sex with one or more partners.
- Much of our society, including doctors, fail to recognize that older people might be sexually active. As a consequence, physicians often do not screen their older patients for sexually transmitted disease or they misdiagnose older patients who exhibit early symptoms of HIV/AIDS. Only in the later stage of the disease is the real cause identified, which in turn makes it harder to treat.
More seniors are contracting venereal disease due to unprotected sex
Tosia McCormick, cofounder of JT&M Health, a not-for-profit organization that promotes better health through education at any stage of life, became aware of this growing trend in the late 1990’s. She was working at the Staten Island AIDS Task Force and noted a shift in the population profile. Although many of her clients were gay men and former injection drug users, she noticed that more men and women in their 50’s and 60’s began coming to the clinic. “Some of them were distinguished church going ladies who were suddenly faced with the stigma of being HIV positive.”
HIV is on the rise among older adults
Her observations reflect medical statistics. During the last decade, AIDS cases among the over-50 crowd have soared from 16,000 in 1995 to 90,000 in 2003, a 500 percent increase. Yet this trend is not acknowledged by a society that refuses to admit that older people are sexually active. “You see ad campaigns alerting people to the dangers of heart disease, diabetes, and lung cancer, but nothing that indicates older people are prone to contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections,” indicated Ms. McCormick. “Even the ads that warn against AIDS prevention never show the face of an older person.”
She along with other professionals hopes to develop more awareness of this trend through education of the medical community and the general public. She is also hoping to attract more media coverage through JT&M.
Doctors must acknowledge many boomers are still sexually active
Medical advances promise older people longer more productive lives and many healthy adults in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s hope to include intimacy in their later years. Yet with this new trend there come new responsibilities. The medical community must change their attitude towards older people and question them about their sexual activity. Media campaigns that warn of the dangers of AID/HIV and other sexually transmitted disease must begin to include older people in their coverage. Finally older people must begin to recognize the dangers of unprotected sex. It is important that this growing healthier population accept the responsibilities that come with longer and healthier lives. Older people must become more accountable for their actions and take precautions to protect themselves and their partners.