Teaching those 50 and above about HIV

December 1, 2009 3:20:16 PM PST
It's a surprising statistic - one in three AIDS patients is above the age of 50. Now, a local program is teaching elderly people how to protect themselves. It may not be your image of the typical person at risk for AIDS - gray hair, a hearing aid, even a cane. But people over the age of 50 and well into their 80s form a big group who are at risk for HIV infection.

The Educational Alliance, a community outreach group on the Lower East Side, is holding workshops on HIV and AIDS. Pedro Cordero leads the workshop.

The idea is to educate a group in which divorce, new sexual partners and potency drugs have brought sex onto the front burner again.

"They're dating, living longer, more active, more health conscious," Cordero said. "They're exercising, they're doing all kinds of things to keep themselves younger."

Younger and healthier. At the workshop, where pamphlets on HIV/AIDS and condoms are freely given out, they learn about safe sex, about virus spreading through body fluids and about a simple blood test to diagnose infection.

It's extremely important for anyone, including those over age 50, to be tested for HIV so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. Delaying treatment raises the odds of dying from HIV by 60 to 90 percent.

Drug combinations can extend the lives of infected patients, and older people with the illness are more likely to take those drugs on schedule than younger ones. But the idea of the meeting is to prevent infection.

"There are people who have relationships," Charlotte Rick said. "I've had them, and it's important to know that we're not out of the picture and that we still must use precautions."

That is the take-home message.

"Especially the old, who feel nothing can happen to them, it can happen," Catherine Cumberbatch said. "And I would urge them to take all precautions that they can."

It's not just about sexual spread of HIV. One study found that IV drug use was responsible for more than 16 percent of HIV/AIDS in people over 50. Some doctors may not think to test older people for HIV, so if you're at risk, be your own advocate. During your checkup, ask to be tested.