Guest Blog: The Prevalence of HIV/AIDS Among Older Adults

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By Mandisa Sifelani

I have always enjoyed working with older adults, so coming to the Centre as a practicum student was exciting for me, but also it was to challenge myself. Challenge myself in the area of research. As this is a skill I had been learning in my classes, I was eager to put theory into practice, and what better place for me to practice, than at the Centre for Elder Research.

As my interest has always been in older adults, the issue of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among older adults caught my attention. There is a lot of dialogue and open discussions surrounding HIV/AIDS in general, however, there is not much focus on the aging population, and there needs to be. In some way, older adults have become “the forgotten” generation.

According to Statistics Canada, the rise in HIV/AIDS cases among older adults is rising, and so is that of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Too often older adults are sidelined and are not being tested for HIV, because their symptoms are associated with ageing. This is according to the Community AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE), who also state that low knowledge and testing can lead to a diagnosis of HIV in older adults, which may rapidly progress and make it difficult to treat.

Older Persons living with HIV/AIDS experience a “double jeopardy” of HIV stigma and ageism, where they perceive ageism in accessing AIDS service organizations, and HIV stigma in accessing non-HIV services (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2015). So because of this “double jeopardy”, how can older adults living with HIV/AIDS be supported in their quality of life? Here are some steps that can be taken;

  • Educate older adults
  • Educate families, caregivers and physicians
  • Facilitate workshops on prevention and safe sex practices for older adults
  • Be inclusive of older adults in approaches and strategies to a better quality of living with HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, I have to mention how the use of technology (iPads, Laptops, Smartphones and computers), can be a great asset and tool for older adults to use in finding online resources, (literature, support groups, agencies), which not only increases their awareness about HIV/AIDS, but it keeps them in the “loop” on what is new in the medical field. Additionally, the use of technology, can connect older adults with their physicians through online dialogues/consultations, plus interactions with family, friends, and other older adults living with HIV/AIDS. Which is a key factor in ensuring that they do not succumb to isolation and loneliness, which plays a significant role in the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS.

To gain more insight on this growing social issue, an article entitled The graying of HIV: 1 in 6 new U.S. cases are people older than 50 highlights the growing number of older adults in the United States, which parallels with Canadian older adults as the growing numbers are similar in our own backyard.

In conclusion, I can honestly attest to how my time at the Centre has truly brought theory into practice. In my role as a practicum student I have been able to partake in a couple of projects, which have all aided me in seeing community research in action. My love for research has grown, and with the support of the research team at the Centre, I will always be grateful for the learning opportunity and experience.

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Mandisa Sifelani, B.S.W, is an M.S.W Candidate, 2016 at York University, currently working at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research as a practicum student. Her major focus of work has been on older adults and aging, and until recently how the inclusion of technology can be an asset in helping to curb isolation and loneliness with the aging population.

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