March 29, 2007
Denial, stigma, and shame keep many older Americans from acknowledging their risk factors for HIV, according to Sun City physician Amardeep Sodhi. "There is no age barrier for this disease," said the infectious-disease specialist. "You can get it from heterosexual exposure. It does exist in Sun City. No one is immune from this disease."
The HIV infection rate among Americans over age 50 is climbing every year, according to CDC. Seniors accounted for 10 percent of HIV cases in the 1980s and early 1990s, 11.6 percent in 1997, 12.7 percent in 1998 and 13.4 percent in 1999. Since 1991, heterosexual transmission among those over 50 has increased by 94 percent among men and 107 percent among women.
"If you're living in a senior resort or an assisted-living home, where do you go for help?" asked Mark Kezios of the Ryan White Foundation Planning Council. Most HIV specialists are in central Phoenix, not Sun City: "Community centers out there don't have HIV support groups, and doctors don't regularly test for HIV." Older people, he said, "have different barriers: age barriers, limited exposure to information, distance barriers. They also don't have as many peers."
"Seniors may be having more casual sex than we suspect," said Sodhi, but they typically do not ask to be tested for HIV. "In the future we are going to see more and more older people infected with HIV. People are living longer because of treatments. As the disease becomes more established in the heterosexual community, it will continue to spread." Sodhi sees about 300 HIV patients at his Sun City practice; he estimates at least 50 are over age 50, and 10 are over 65.