HIV/AIDS Facts for Those Over 50

HIV/AIDS Myths and Facts

HIV/AIDS Fast Facts for Those Over 50

Many people do not have any symptoms when they are first infected with HIV. It can take as little as a few weeks for minor flu-like symptoms to show up or as long as 10 years or more for more serious symptoms. People age 50 and older may not recognize HIV symptoms in themselves because they think what they are feeling and experiencing is part of normal aging. Symptoms can include:

  • headache,
  • chronic cough,
  • diarrhea,
  • swollen glands,
  • lack of energy,
  • loss of appetite and weight loss,
  • frequent fevers and sweats,
  • frequent yeast infections,
  • skin rashes,
  • pelvic and abdominal cramps,
  • sores on certain parts of your body, and;
  • short-term memory loss.

ANYONE can get HIV and AIDS. Regardless of your age, and especially if you are 50 years old or older, you may be at risk for HIV if any of the following is true:

  1. If you are sexually active and don't use a male latex condom. You can get HIV/AIDS from having sex with someone who is infected with the HIV virus. The virus passes from the infected person to another through the exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. HIV can get into your body during sex through any opening, such as a tear or cut in the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum or mouth.


  2. If you don't know your partner's sexual and drug history. Has your partner been tested for HIV/AIDS? Has he or she had a number of different sex partners? Does your partner inject drugs?


  3. If you inject drugs and share needles or syringes with other people. Drug users are not the only people who might share needles. People with diabetes, for example, who inject insulin or draw blood to test glucose levels, might share needles. If you have shared needles for any reason or if you have had sex with someone who has, you should be tested for HIV/AIDS.


  4. If you had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985, or a blood transfusion or operation in a developing country at any time.

If any one of the above is true, you should be tested for HIV/AIDS. Check your local phone directory for the number of a hospital or health center where you can get a list of test sites. In most states the tests can be confidential (you give your name) or anonymous (you don't give your name).

There are many myths about HIV/AIDS. The examples below are FACTS:

  • You cannot get HIV through casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging a person with HIV/AIDS.


  • You cannot get HIV from using a public telephone, drinking fountain, restroom, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, or hot tub.


  • You cannot get HIV from sharing a drink or being coughed or sneezed on by a person with HIV/AIDS.


  • You cannot get HIV from donating blood.


  • You cannot get HIV from a mosquito bite.

Is HIV/AIDS Different in Older People?

The number of older people with HIV/AIDS is on the rise. About 10% of all people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States - some 75,000 Americans - are age 50 and older. Because older people don't get tested for HIV/AIDS on a regular basis, there may be even more cases than we know. How has this happened?

  • Because older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger age groups: how it is spread; the importance of using condoms and not sharing needles; the importance of getting tested; the importance of talking to their doctor.


  • Because health care workers and educators have neglected the middle age and older population in terms of HIV/AIDS education and prevention.


  • Because older people are less likely than younger people to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.


  • Because doctors don't tend to ask their older patients about sex or drug use. It is harder for doctors to recognize symptoms of HIV/AIDS in older people. Doctors need to talk to their patients about the specific behaviors that put them at risk for HIV/AIDS.

Older people often mistake HIV/AIDS symptoms for the aches and pains of normal aging so, they are less likely than younger people to get tested for HIV/AIDS. They may be embarrassed, ashamed, and fearful of being tested for HIV/AIDS, a disease connected with having sex and injecting drugs. People age 50 and over may have had the virus for years before being tested. By the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in its most advanced stages. Older people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS do not live as long as younger people who have the virus. It is important to get tested early. The earlier you begin medical treatment, the better your chances for living longer.

Many older people who have HIV/AIDS live in isolation because they are afraid to tell family and friends about their illness. They may have more severe depression than younger people. Older people are less likely to join support groups. Older people with HIV/AIDS need help coping both emotionally and physically with the disease. As the infection progresses, they will need help getting around and caring for themselves. Older people with AIDS need support and understanding from their doctors, family, friends, and community.

HIV/AIDS affects older people in yet another way. Many younger people with HIV/AIDS turn to their parents and grandparents for financial support and nursing care. Many older people have cared for their own children with HIV/AIDS and then for their orphaned and sometimes HIV-infected grandchildren. Taking care of others can be mentally, physically, and financially draining. This is particularly true for older caregivers. Taking care of someone with HIV/AIDS can be very stressful and hard.

The above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Institute on Aging (http://www.aoa.dhhs.gov/aoa/pages/agepages/aids.html).


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Reviewed on 10/30/2002

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