SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Centers for Disease Control says more than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and almost 1 in 6 don't know they are infected. This could affect Suncoast seniors who may be unaware of the dangers.
There are certain things we are hesitant to discuss with children, and frequently those same topics are avoided with seniors. But whether we address it or not, older people are not only sexually active; according to the American Academy of HIV Medicine, by 2015, half the U.S. HIV population will be age fifty or older.
The Suncoast however, may find those numbers to be higher due to its large senior population.
“I have friends that work in retirement, in assisted living facilities, and some of the stories they have to tell. Oh yes, they're having sex,” says Valerie Wojciechowicz, an HIV educator and peer navigator at CAN.
She says we are seeing our numbers for HIV infections growing in the senior population in our community. “But they think they're not at risk. In their day, condoms were only for birth control. And so today, they don't have to worry about birth control and they don't know about HIV and all the other STD's that they could have to worry about.”
CAN’s director of development, Scott George, says that over 35% of new diagnoses in the country are for people over fifty. “Think about Sarasota; our age demographic is much higher, so those numbers don't apply at all to Sarasota. They'd be much worse.”
Seniors with HIV that don't realize it are in a very dangerous position, says George. “HIV accelerates and predisposes you to a number of diseases which causes death.
Now the biggest problem is HIV weakens your immune system, therefore allowing you to get osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes.”
The most important and saddest thing, says George, is people will die of these diseases. HIV is the secondary cause, and can’t be listed as cause of death. We have no idea how many people are actually dying due to HIV infection. “I had a very dear friend that became HIV positive and later developed AIDS.”
Caroline Allen of Senior Fiendship Centers lost her friend. She says in the senior population there is a lot of misinformation about the disease. “There are a lot of seniors that are sexually active and it never occurs to them that they could be at risk for contracting HIV or AIDS.”
She acknowledges the Suncoast lacks sex education for seniors. “I think it's ignorance on the part of the public and the health care community to a certain degree.”
She is not alone. “Ignorance; I think there's just a lack of education and everybody seems to think ‘I'm not that kind of person.’”
But, if you think you know what that kind of person to contract HIV is, think again. “I have been living with HIV for almost thirty years, and the reason I do this, the reason I speak so publicly and put myself out there, is because I want folks to understand that it's not the face of the eighties,” says Wojciechowicz.
Senior Friendship Centers will conduct a straight talking series on sex and seniors next month called Birds do it, bees do it, and so does grandma.
A couple of topics planned for discussion are the rise and fall of Viagra, and safe sex practices for seniors.
We will keep you posted.