Workshop aims to educate seniors about HIV
For generations, most of the education about sexually-transmitted diseases has been aimed at youth, but with climbing rates of infection, local advocates are reaching out to seniors and groups that work with them for a workshop on aging and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
“What we are looking at is the tail end of the baby boomers back in the dating scene,” said Gerard Yetman, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s a lot different than when a lot of them first entered their original dating scene.
HIV is the virus that can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and is among the sexually-transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, that are a rising concern nationally for seniors.
The workshop by the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador working group on aging (HIV/LGBT) and the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange has invited groups and interested seniors to a workshop tonight from 7-9 p.m. at the Canon Stirling Auditorium, St. Mary’s Church, on Craigmiller Avenue in St. John’s.
In 2012 in Canada, 45 per cent of those who tested positive for HIV were heterosexual, and 18.5 per cent of those who tested positive were seniors or older than 50, up from 11 per cent in 2007, said Yetman, who has been unable to obtain up-to-date statistics for this province.
Besides a concern about how educated seniors are on the subject, there are also concerns about seniors who have HIV and either need or are in long-term care.
Another topic the group is working on is lobbying for policies in long-term care that are respectful to members of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LBGT) community.
Yetman said the idea of seniors as sexual human beings isn’t as recognized in culture as it should be, and even many health care care professionals don’t know how to approach the subject in a respectful and comfortable manner.
He said some seniors have asked their doctors for a test for a sexually transmitted disease — now known as sexually transmitted blood-borne infections (STBBI) — or an HIV test and have been told they are not considered to be in a high-risk category.
The risk of HIV and AIDs has gone off many young people’s radar because they erroneously believe that a pill will cure it, Yetman said.
Even moreso, the disease is not on the radar for seniors who were part of a couple, rather than in the dating pool, when AIDS cases began in the 1980s, but are now recently single due to divorce or death of a spouse.
While medication has meant that AIDS is not the killer it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, those suffering from HIV suffer lifelong effects, including accelerated aging, Yetman said.
It’s the combination of the diagnosis and aging that requires education for long-term care staff who will care for seniors with HIV, he said.
“The HIV-positive population will be accessing long-term care facilities much faster than the average population,” Yetman said.
“One of the things we are trying to do now is making the community aware.”
The HIV and aging workshop will address the trend of a growing population of people living with HIV, tackle sexual health messaging for older Canadians and explore the potential impact of stigma on them. It will also provide information about aging with HIV.
Besides seniors and organizations that provide services to seniors, Yetman hopes to involve churches in the effort to inform people about the issues.