Research Paper: Senior Citizens and the Growing

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[. . .] Anderson reports that "according to Patricia Hawkins, associate executive director of the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Clinic, the popularity of medications such as Viagra has also contributed to the surge of HIV and AIDS among this group. 'Viagra has contributed a lot to this because there is so much more sexual activity among seniors and yet they are not often using contraception because they aren't worried about pregnancy,' she said. 'I don't think that our medical community has caught up to the impact of Viagra.'" (Anderson, p. 1)

The result is a new generation of sexually active individuals who, as discussed in previous sections, are not possessed in the education or knowledge of sexually transmitted disease or methods of protection. In addition to the creation of this new risk factor by emergent medical developments, there are levels of medical susceptibility which are specific to the elderly. Some anatomical changes, especially for women, can produce a higher degree of vulnerability to infection. For instance, the National Institution on Aging (NIA) (2012) makes the point that "there may be a connection between HIV / AIDS and women in menopause. Women who are no longer worried about getting pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and practice safe sex. Some menopausal women have vaginal dryness and thinning. This means they are more likely to have small tears and abrasions during sex. This can put women at greater risk for HIV." (NIA, p. 1)

In addition to the risk factors for contraction, another level of risk specific to the elderly relates to the general range of health conditions that accompany advancing age. Also on the epidemiological front is the concern that many of the early symptoms of HIV / AIDS may be overlooked by the elderly. Lacking knowledge of the AIDS virus and its symptoms, and also perhaps not perceiving anything out of the ordinary, the NPIN reports that "older people often mistake the symptoms of HIV / AIDS for the aches and pains of normal aging, so they are less likely to get tested." (NPIN, p. 1)

This is not uncommon in the early stages among all of those who might be effected by HIV / AIDS. However, with the elderly, this uncertainty may be exacerbated by a number of facts. First and foremost, senior citizens are inherently more susceptible to a wide array of health concerns and maladies on a daily basis. This susceptibility may overshadow what could otherwise be telltale signs of the HIV / AIDS virus.

Another factor is that few senior citizens actively request or seek out an AIDS text. Similarly, until only recently, it has not been the habit of medical professionals to require such tests with any regularity. This means that the condition may be more likely to go untested for a greater length of time among senior citizens. As the NIA warns, "many people do not have any symptoms when they are first infected with HIV. It can take as little as a few weeks for minor flu-like symptoms to show up or as long as 10 years or more for more serious symptoms. Symptoms can include headache, chronic cough, diarrhea, swollen glands, lack of energy, loss of appetite and weight loss, frequent fevers and sweats, frequent yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores on certain parts of your body, and short-term memory loss." (NIA, p. 1)

It is especially important for the geriatric healthcare community to look for any combination of these symptoms in the elderly. Early detection takes on an added importance for those who are advanced in age and might therefore be especially at risk for serious illness as a result of untreated immune-deficiencies. To this very point, Chiao et al. (1999) note that "survival rates among elderly individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are consistently decreased in comparison with those for younger patients." (Chiao et al., p. 740)

This increased risk of fatality must be seen as a determinant part of the epidemiological outlook for senior citizens living with HIV / AIDS.

7

Environmental Factors

Self-contained communities

Considerations

Past Considerations: The misimpression that seniors are not a sexually active or at-risk population.

Present Considerations: The clear need for a far greater degree of information outreach.

Future Considerations: The concern that seniors are a growing population and, thusly, that the population at risk is growing rapidly as well.

The Plan

Recommendation 1: Information Outreach

Recommendation 2: Removing the Stigma

Recommendation 3: Measures of Prevention

The plan for addressing the risks facing seniors centers around three major recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Information Outreach:

First and foremost among our recommendations is the need to alter the social and cultural influences that shape the current discourse on seniors and sex. Using public information campaigns and other outreach methods is a critical step in the plan to bring greater awareness of the risks that sexually active seniors face. Accordingly, "the National Association on HIV Over Fifty (NAHOF) says that there are specific ways to target older people. Specific programs must be implemented for older adults who need to be informed about the transmission and prevention of HIV, more research is needed to study seniors' sexual and drug-using behaviors to determine HIV disease progression and treatments and programs aimed at reaching health care and service providers should cover misdiagnoses, treatments, support groups and more." (Anderson, p. 1)

In sum, not only must we do more to make sure that seniors are aware of the risks facing them but also to make sure that we as a general public and as a healthcare community also understand these risks.

Recommendation 2: Removing the Stigma

It is also critical that we continue the strides that we've already made toward undermining the stigmas and misconceptions surrounding HIV / AIDS. Outreach should take the form of targeting those environments where seniors are most at risk such as retirement communities and regions with large elderly populations. Here, education must include a broadening discussion on the realities of AIDS. Valdiserri (2002) gives us an array of recommendations for how to achieve this change. Valdiserri reports that "cited among the 10 essential health services of every public health agency are the following activities: empower people about health issues, mobilize communities to solve health problems, develop policies and plans in support of individual and community health, and conduct research to find innovative solutions to health problems. To ensure these essential services in the context of HIV prevention and care, there is no question that we must all -- every segment of the public health community -- confront the impact of HIV / AIDS stigma." (Valdiserri, p. 341)

Separating fact from fiction is essential to making sure that we're reaching the populations that are impacted instead of simply those we associate with the AIDS virus.

Recommendation 3: Measures of Prevention

The emphasis on prevention means that we need to work with medical professionals to engage seniors more regularly in testing for the AIDS virus in order to prevent those who are infected from spreading the condition. Likewise, there is a need to improve senior knowledge regarding methods of contraception such as condoms and female condoms. Educational seminars held in senior communities could be an excellent way to help reduce the impact of the epidemiological risks discussed here throughout.

10

References

Anderson, M. (2005). HIV / AIDS and the Elderly. Final Call.com.

Bane, S.D. (1996). National Resource Center for Rural Elderly, Center on Aging Studies. CAS.umkc.edu.

Chiao, E.Y.; Ries, K.M. & Sande, M.A. (1999). AIDS and the Elderly. Clinical4

National Institute on Aging (NIA). (2012). HIV, AIDS, and Older Adults.. WEBMD.

National Prevention Information Network (NPIN).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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