September 18th is National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. The holiday is intended to call attention to the growing number of people living full and long lives with HIV and all of the aging-related challenges that come with HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care.

HIV Risk Factors for the Elder Population

The risk factors for HIV are largely the same for seniors as they are for everybody else. The top risk factors are:

  • Unprotected sex
  • Sharing needles

As more people enjoy healthy sex lives into their Golden Years, there are unfortunately more chances to spread HIV among the senior population. So, it’s important to educate the seniors in your life, who may be re-entering the dating scene after divorce or becoming widowed, and who may not be as educated on the subject as their children and grandchildren are. If you feel too awkward having the conversation yourself, talk to your loved one’s health care or hospice provider, and they will step in and share information in a non-judgmental and non-biased way.

Seniors Are Overlooked for HIV Testing, Treatment

There is a misconception that HIV only affects young people, gay people, and people who use IV drugs. But, nearly half the population of people living with HIV are older than 50 years old — so it’s important that you advocate for your elderly loved ones in this arena in particular. Ask their health care providers for education and testing before it’s too late.

Symptoms of HIV in the Senior Population

HIV impacts every person differently, so there’s no single sign to watch out for. What’s more, sometimes, the early signs of HIV are mistaken for the normal aging process. Some people may not experience symptoms at first, while others may experience flu-like symptoms, a cough, and diarrhea. It can take up to ten years for other symptoms to present, such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Swollen glands
  • Loss of energy and appetite 
  • Skin rashes
  • Sores in the mouth or genital area
  • Repeated yeast infections
  • Gut cramps
  • Short-term memory loss

Help is Available

Seniors living with HIV have special health needs. Because of their age, they face an increased risk for other conditions, including heart disease, bone loss, and cancer. Hospice and palliative care is an excellent treatment option for seniors living with HIV and other conditions. Hospice providers will make sure the patients take all required medications and will monitor them to ensure their HIV medications don’t interact negatively with their other medications. Hospice and palliative care can also help the senior manage their symptoms by practicing a healthy and holistic lifestyle. When the conditions become too advanced to treat, seniors can live out their final days peacefully and comfortably at a hospice center or home.