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Common Issues, Aging and Mental Health (courtesy of The Center for Aging and Life Change)

HIV/AIDS strikes people in all socio-economic, racial, religious, cultural, geographic and age groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released information regarding the AIDS epidemic. They report that between 1991 and 1996 new AIDS cases rose twice as fast among older people as they did among young adults. In 1996, 6,400 AIDS cases were diagnosed in the United States among people 50 and older, up 22 percent from 5,260 new cases in 1991. Cases for the 13-49 age group rose 9 percent, from 46,000 to 50,300 during the same period.

This information suggests that older adults may not be protecting themselves against the disease; that doctors may not be considering the possibility of HIV infection when treating older adults; and that medical educators are not focusing on this age group when developing prevention programs.

According to the CDC most older people who developed AIDS early in the epidemic are presumed to have contracted it from a tainted blood transfusion, whereas, unprotected sex and drug injection is considered the most prevalent source of transmission in recent years.

Among older women, the number of new AIDS cases linked to unprotected sex more than doubled between 1991 and 1996 — from 340 to 700. In older men, that increase was almost as sharp — from 360 to 700. New cases among older men who inject drugs jumped 53 percent, from 850 to 1,300. Among older women, the increase was 75 percent, from 160 to 280.

AIDS education for professionals, and/or public education programs haven't focused on people 50 and over. Therefore, physicians may be less likely to consider the possibility of HIV infection, and when older people are diagnosed with AIDS it if often in the later stages. Diseases that signal an AIDS infection such as AIDS related dementia often mimic the illnesses of aging such as Alzheimer's disease. The symptoms of appetite and sleep disturbance, lethargy, confusion, apathy and general listlessness can easily be confused with a depressive episode.

The report indicated that in 1996, 13 percent of people 50 and older died within a month of their AIDS diagnosis, compared with 6 percent of those between 13 and 49.

Colorado has a range of medical and public awareness programs. Testing, treatment, and support services are available. For additional information please contact the Northern Colorado AIDS Project...NCAP provides a broad range of support services and is an excellent resource. NCAP is located at 147 West Oak, Suite 3, Fort Collins, Colorado 80524, (970) 484-4469 or 1-800-464-4611. E-mail: [email protected].


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