Talk to a nurse

If you have questions about HIV or any other topic about your sexual health visit HealthLinkBC, or talk to a registered nurse at the BC Centre for Disease Control who can provide you with the information or the referrals you need.

HIV and aging

Are you interested in seeing how older adults are coping with HIV and aging? The following presentations from the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America can give you some important - and common sense - advice.

Seniors are at Risk for HIV/AIDS

Seniors and HIVSeniors and HIV/AIDS: Know the risks and get the facts

Older people need to know that there is no age limit for HIV, which means that Canadian seniors are at risk. HIV/AIDS among older people is becoming increasingly prevalent for several reasons. First, because many HIV-positive people who were diagnosed at an earlier age are receiving care and living longer; secondly, because people are being infected after the age of 50. Older adults are still being first diagnosed with HIV at a later stage of infection — when they seek treatment for an HIV-related illness.

What is HIV? What is AIDS?

HIV, short for human immunodeficiency virus, damages your immune system which is the system in your body that helps fight off diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to a much more serious disease called AIDS, short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. When the HIV infection enters your body, it makes your immune system weaker which puts you in danger of developing cancers, infections and other life–threatening diseases. Today there are drugs available that can help your body keep HIV in check and help prevent the development of AIDS.

Many older adults do not think that they are at risk for sexually-transmitted infections (STI’s), which includes HIV. But this is not true. HIV usually comes from having unprotected sex or sharing needles with an infected person, or through contact with HIV-infected blood. Among some of the reasons why seniors may be at increased risk for becoming HIV-positive:

  • Many older adults are newly single, widowed, or have grown children and have more time for sexual activity;
  • New treatments for erectile dysfunction such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis enable sex;
  • Older adults may be unfamiliar with condom use or are reluctant to use them because birth control after menopause is unnecessary, and condoms can make it difficult to maintain an erection;
  • The risk of contracting HIV is higher among menopausal women due to a drier vagina and thinner vaginal walls — the natural results of menopause – which can lead to small lesions through which HIV can gain entry;
  • Many older people live in assisted living communities, where there is still great stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, often associated with homosexuality and/or substance abuse;  
  • Older injection drug users comprise over 16 per cent of AIDS cases over the age of 50.

Is HIV different in older people?

Older adults with HIV/AIDS risk poorer health outcomes as a result of other health issues such as cardiovascular disease, the increased likelihood of late diagnosis, and health care providers underestimating the risk of HIV among older persons or assuming that common HIV symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss or short-term memory loss are due to the normal aging process.

Older persons may not be comfortable disclosing their sexual behaviors or drug use to others and this may be a cultural issue. Older adults may have fewer surviving friends and a smaller social network to provide support and care and they may also be caregivers themselves.

What can you do?

Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about HIV. If you are sexually active or sharing needles you should know your HIV status. You should also know your partner’s status. You both need to be tested.

You can also be tested without anyone knowing at the following locations in Prince George:

  • Northern Interior Health Unit, 1444 Edmonton Street, Tel: 250-565-7363; Drop in Monday/Tuesday/Friday: 1:15- 3:45 Wednesday/Thursday: 8:45 –11:30 a.m.
  • Prince George AIDS Prevention Program—Needle Exchange, 1108 – 3rd Ave., Tel: 250-564-1727; Monday–Sunday: 1:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
  • Central Interior Native Health Society, 365 George Street, Tel: 250-564-4422; Drop in Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday: 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays: 1:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m.

If you live outside Prince George and want to know where you can receive confidential testing, please call the Blood Borne Pathogens Services team at 250-565-7362.

HIV101.ca is sponsored by the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project which is funded by the Government of British Columbia supporting Northern Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority, Providence Health Care, and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. The STOP HIV/AIDS project aims to expand HIV testing, treatment, and support in British Columbia.
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