The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been one of the world’s most serious public health crises for over 40 years. Although there has been significant progress in HIV treatment and prevention, many challenges remain to overcome.
One of them is the growing number of HIV patients over 50 years old. Nearly half of adults living with HIV are over the age of 50, and by 2030, over 70 percent of the HIV-positive population in the United States will be over 50 .
While advancements in treatment mean that people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives, early diagnosis and care remain crucial. Compared to their younger counterparts, older adults are less likely to get tested and more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage HIV. Here’s how regular HIV testing can help enable earlier diagnoses and better health outcomes.
Why older people are often diagnosed with HIV at a later stage
Anyone can get HIV, including older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 13 to 64 years old receives HIV testing at least once, and that higher-risk individuals get testing more often.
A common but incorrect assumption is that older people are no longer sexually active and, therefore, not at risk of HIV. As older people are generally considered at low risk of getting HIV, many healthcare providers do not test them. The truth is many HIV risk factors are the same for people of any age, and older people are often less likely to practice safer sex than younger people.
Despite this, they are rarely included in HIV education. Additionally, older people may mistake HIV symptoms for those of normal aging and not consider HIV a cause, while others may be embarrassed or afraid to be tested for HIV. This combination of stigma and lack of awareness can prevent older adults from receiving the timely testing and care they need.
The consequences of a lack of HIV screening
Thousands of individuals aged 50 or older are diagnosed with HIV every year . While life-long treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives, it is only possible with screening and timely intervention.
Without routine screening, HIV is more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage in many older people. This can have serious consequences as they will start treatment late and possibly suffer more immune-system damage.
According to CDC, in 2018, 35% of people aged 50 and older already had late-stage HIV infection (AIDS) when they received a diagnosis . Individuals with a late HIV diagnosis are at increased risk for HIV-related morbidity and mortality and may have poorer responses to antiretroviral treatment and high healthcare costs.
How LetsGetChecked can help
Older adults are often overlooked when it comes to HIV prevention and treatment. Misconceptions, lack of accessible HIV programs, and tailored health resources can make it difficult for older adults to seek medical help.
LetsGetChecked’s convenient and discreet sexual health solutions can help make it easier for older individuals to engage in regular testing. We meet individuals where they are so they can access crucial health insights that enable earlier identification and better health outcomes.