As we age, we often find ourselves dealing with all sorts of unplanned or unpleasant health conditions, but few have the social stigma of HIV/AIDS, where people with the disease may not want to seek help or even let anyone know they have it.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care wants patients in the Mt. Vernon area to know that they’re happy to provide the same quality care for anyone with HIV/AIDS as they do with any other health condition. Not only will they be compassionate and discrete, but they’ll also be happy to provide information about area resources for those who need more information.
This education and support can go a long way in helping people feel more comfortable with their diagnosis, since, while there isn’t yet a universal cure, there are steps that can be taken to improve a patient’s quality of life plus extend the time before the virus switches from HIV to AIDS, and the time from AIDS diagnosis until death. The same care is available to someone needing hospice care who has HIV but not AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is sometimes called the forgotten disease, due to a perceived lack of public attention and fund-raising for research, especially when compared to other health conditions. Though there was significant publicity – and high mortality — in the 1980s and early 1990s, the public’s focus has gradually shifted away from the disease to other more prominent and less controversial conditions.
Though there is plenty of support at the federal, state and local levels for treatment, not everyone knows it’s still out there, especially senior patients. For instance, as of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 42 percent of those with an HIV diagnosis were age 50 or older, 25 percent of these were 55 or older and 6 percent or older.
This month, various agencies, non-profits and information sources nationwide want to encourage people to learn more about HIV/AIDS, especially among seniors.
National HIV/AIDS and Aging Day, which takes place Sept. 18, lets the population with this health condition know that there is plenty of help available, while also letting the public know that, far from being forgotten, there are many people battling the disease who would appreciate support and encouragement.
The day is also an opportunity to be aware of risk factors as well — when people have the virus but don’t know much about it, or tell others about it, they won’t take steps to stop its spread or manage their own health. But a well-informed patient will be able to make better decisions about treatment and interactions with others.
Reasons not to share
Though each state requires health providers to report any HIV diagnosis or death due to public health concerns, research potential and tracking needs, individuals with either condition are generally left alone.
As of 2015, there were about 39,000 people diagnosed with HIV in the U.S., a slight decrease from the 44,073 in 2014.
Nationwide, there are about 1.2 million people with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV, and of these, the largest segment, about 26 percent, or 319,000 is age 50-54.
So even though there are high numbers of older people with the virus, this population also has high risk factors and potentially dangerous behaviors, including:
- Less disclosure: If they aren’t completely familiar with their diagnosis, they may not be comfortable disclosing these details to people they come into contact with, either sexual partners or even health care providers. Either way, this lack of information can put these people at risk of acquiring the virus themselves.
- Less safe sex. Contraception/protection may be forgotten or dismissed since there isn’t need for birth control. But contraceptives can also block the spread of HIV/AIDS or other sexually-transmitted diseases.
- Advanced condition at diagnosis. Because there’s a perception that HIV/AIDS is something that younger people have, someone may not realize they have HIV until it has progressed farther than it might some people who find out right away. This could lead to other damage to the immune system and making them more susceptible to other diseases. Some people even find out they have AIDS without knowing they even had HIV.
- Less conversations. Though seniors generally visit their doctor more often than people in their 20s or 30s, they’re less likely to talk about sexual health or precautions. So they may not know proper precautions or current research about medication/care options for HIV.
- Other physical or mental health conditions. Someone who has been living with HIV for years, especially a senior, may be prone to feelings of isolation or depression. They may spend their time and money focusing on treatment methods, or simply not telling anyone around them about their condition due to earlier stigmas.
Home health care options
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care has received training in how to care for people in the Mt. Vernon area with HIV/AIDS. Beyond the basic precautions, the staff is eager to show people that, while there isn’t yet a cure, there are ways to keep up one’s quality of life, educate themselves on the disease and minimize the risk of spreading it to others.