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Observing National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day in an Aging Epidemic

By Deborah Parham Hopson, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., R.N., R.A.D.M., U.S.P.H.S.

August 4, 2011

Dr. Deborah Parham Hopson

Dr. Deborah Parham Hopson

Four years ago, the nation began its observance of National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day (September 18). The fact that we get to observe this day reflects a sharp contrast to where we were when CDC reported the first cases of AIDS 30 years ago. Once a death sentence, HIV disease has evolved into a chronic disease if caught early and properly managed -- an accomplishment made possible thanks to improved care delivery and treatment advances.

HIV and Aging

People living with HIV are not, however, immune to the myriad of age-related health conditions. This means health care providers must become evermore comprehensive in their care offerings. And this demand is only growing: in 2008, 44% of the Ryan White Program's clients were 45-64 years of age (a 15% increase since 2002).

To assist our Program's providers in caring for this population we have taken a number of steps:

Our grantees are working tirelessly to add new services and specialties for their aging patients, whether in-house under the umbrellas of their one-stop-shops, creating clinic days for specialists to visit on site, or forging new community partnerships with providers adept at addressing age-related conditions. One such provider is Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, whose story we featured in our biennial progress report (PDF 17MB). Our providers recognize that older people are more often using social media and are a part of the trend of looking for health information online (PDF, 1.1MB).

New HIV Diagnoses

While the aging of HIV patients represents a phenomenal milestone in treatment and a testament to the level of care coordination among our frontline providers, a new trend has also emerged in recent years: older people newly diagnosed. Some older people underestimate their risk for contracting HIV. We also know that late diagnoses at any age are associated with poorer health outcomes and more rapid disease progression. To increase prevention, testing, and early engagement efforts, we are collaborating with our federal partners as part of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

In this way we can create the strongest safety net of all: one where we can reduce HIV infections as well as offer world-class, truly comprehensive wraparound services to those in need -- including our aging population. As you plan to mark National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day and continue frontline service every day, I encourage you to reach out to HRSA and to the Ryan White Programs in your area to stay abreast of new resources and emerging trends.

Deborah Parham Hopson, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., R.N., R.A.D.M., U.S.P.H.S., is associate administrator for HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS Bureau (HAB), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

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