HIV/ AIDS AMONG THE OLDER POPULATION 1
HIV/ AIDS among theolder population
The rate of HIV infections among the older population is growingsignificantly. The major reason for the increasing number of olderpeople living with HIV is that the treatment used to manage the virusis allowing people to live longer. According to the Center forDisease Control and Prevention (2016), people aged 55 years and overaccounted for 26% of all Americans living with HIV infections in2013. Just like young people, the aged also faces high risk ofgetting infected with HIV if they engage in unprotected sex however,they are less aware of the factors that expose them to the virus.Consequently, for those living with the virus and are 55 years andover, there is a higher chance that the diagnosis of the disease willbe done when the condition has progressed to the AIDS status. Thelate diagnosis of the HIV infection among the aged is the majorchallenge impending the management of this condition. This is becausea person`s immune system is usually already weakened by the virus bythe time the diagnosis of the disease is being made. Besides beingless unaware of how HIV is transmitted, this group does notunderstand the factors that make them vulnerable to getting infectedwith the virus. These factors include the higher likelihood oferectile dysfunctions in males and reduced lubrication and thinningof the vagina in females. There is also the challenge of stigma whichis more severe for the elderly because these individuals are alsosuffering from other diseases as well as loss of family members andfriends. This paper will discuss the late diagnosis of HIV amongpeople aged over 55 and over and factors that make this groupextremely vulnerable to contracting the virus. Also, the risk factorsthat account for the spread of HIV infection among the olderpopulation will also be discussed.
First, there is a higher chance of late HIV diagnosis among the olderpopulation compared to other groups. By the time the diagnosis ismade, there is a higher possibility that the virus has alreadyprogressed to the AID status. In 2014, 40% of individuals aged 55years and over were found to be suffering from AIDS at the time theirHIV diagnosis was made(Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Thereason for the late diagnosis of HIV among the aged is because of thelow likelihood that a health care provider dealing with this groupwill inquire about the sexual habits and HIV status of his/herpatients.
Some health care practitioners, especially those fresh from collegefind it embarrassing to inquire about their older patient`s sexualhabits. Besides, the majority of the aged persons still hold ontotheir cultures that forbid the holding of discussions over sexmatters in the presence of younger persons. Also, the seniors tend toseek HIV testing services less often. There is a perception among theolder people that HIV affects only the teenagers and young adults. As such, the majority of them come to learn of their HIV positivestatus when they are suffering from other diseases that prompt thehealth care practitioner to test them for the virus (Centerfor Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).Additionally, it is usually hard for the medical doctors to detectsigns of HIV in their older patients as these symptoms usually mimicthe normal aging process. Examples of these signs include weightloss, short-term memory, and lack of energy. Even when an aged personobserves these signs, he/she tends to view them as normal for peopleof his/her age hence he/she is less likely to seek help from ahealthcare provider.
Second, the aged face a higher risk of getting infected with the HIVvirus compared to the other groups in the population To begin with,the elderly have similar risk factors as the younger people. Forexample, just like the teenagers and young adults, the aged are alsosexually active. However, certain factors make the senior adultsextremely vulnerable to HIV infection. First, these individualspossess little knowledge about HIV and how they can protectthemselves from the disease. Second, the aged faces unique riskfactors that account for the high prevalence of HIV among individualsin this age group. First, many of the individuals aged 55 years andover have lost their partners either through death or divorce. Assuch, a large proportion of the older population is dating. Third,senior women do not worry about getting pregnant, and as such, theyrarely practice safe sex such as wearing a condom. Additionally, theaged are more prone to getting HIV because of the age-relatedthinning and dryness of vagina tissues. This means that thelikelihood of one getting HIV even after wearing a condom is higherbecause of the increased risk of bursting. On the other hand, agedmen have higher chances of suffering from erectile dysfunction. Thismeans that these individuals face increased challenges when they usecondoms. As such, some men may decide to do away with condoms, whichincrease their chances of getting HIV. Besides, the chances that thecondom getting detached or disappearing entirely during sex is higherfor the aged men compared to their younger counterparts (Foster,et al., 2012).
Upon diagnosis, the aged go through unique challenges that complicatethe efforts for managing the HIV condition among this group. At age55 and above, individuals are more likely to suffer from variousdiseases as well as social isolation. Some of the conditions thataffect the aged and that pose a huge challenge when managing HIVinclude thinning diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and certaincancer(Foster, et al., 2012). Apart from making it hard forboth the patient and the health care provider to detect that an agedperson is suffering from HIV, the diseases that target mostly olderpeople weaken these individuals` immune systems. This means that whenthe aged persons are infected with HIV, the experience more severesymptoms. Besides, the HIV condition progresses to AIDS faster amongthe aged compared to when the infected person is younger.
Apart from being prone to numerous diseases that weaken one’simmune system, older people suffering from HIV face worse sigmacompared to the younger population. The discrimination is even worsefor members of the LGBT. Older individuals who are also members ofLGBT end up postponing treatment as they fear discrimination. Unliketheir younger counterparts, the aged persons who are members of theLGBT community face increased challenge dealing with their sexualidentity. Consequently, this individual may end up experiencinginternalized stigma that complicates HIV/AIDS treatment(Foster, et al., 2012).
The high HIV prevalence among the aged has profound implications tothe nursing practice. The information about the unique risk factors,the low screening rate, stigma and discrimination affecting the agedpopulation is likely to influence the way nurses approach care whendealing with these individuals. The aged who also have HIV are thehardest hit by diseases such as cancer, thin bones, andcardiovascular conditions. These conditions have almost similarsymptoms as HIV. As such, nurses need to be extra vigilant for earlysigns that may point that their patients who are suffering fromage-related disease and cancer also have HIV. This helps the nursesto initiate the aged person to the appropriate HIV management programto tame further destruction of the patient’s immune system by thevirus. Nurses also need to ensure that they are keen when handlingthe aged by ensuring that they inquire about their patient HIVstatus. Apart from providing better services to the patients,evaluating the client`s HIV status minimizes the chances of a nursegetting infected while in the course of his/her duty. Nurses,especially those offering home-based care should insist on theirpatients taking part in HIV screening programs when they exhibitcertain ageing-related symptoms that are akin to those found in HIVpatients. The HIV testing should also target areas where the aged arelikely to be found such as retirement communities, health fairs,older adult centers, and nursing homes. To provide patient-centeredcare to HIV patients who also members of the LGBT, nurses need to beaware of the stereotypes that affect these individuals. Besides, tofight self-internalized stigma, nurses need to work together withfamilies of the patients to ensure that the infected persons receiveproper support that will ensure that they do not shun treatment forfear of discrimination.
Center forDisease Control and Prevention. (2016) "HIV among people aged 50and over." Accessed on September 29, 2016.http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/age/olderamericans/
Foster, V.,Clark, P. C., Holstad, M., M. & Burgess, E. (2012). Factorsassociated with risky sexual behaviors in older adults. Journalof the Association of Nurses in AID Care23(6), 487-499.