- December 4, 2014
Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager
World AIDS Day is a time for us to remember those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS over the past year and to recommit ourselves to ending the epidemic. This week, HRC has decided to shine a spotlight on people and communities often overlooked in the struggle to combat HIV and AIDS, including older Americans.
Kevin Lynch is 51 years old and has been living with HIV since the early years of the epidemic, when – like so many other young gay men – he was "told at a really young age to get yourself together because we don’t know when you’re going to die." But he survived, which he credits to being "built like a brick shithouse," and now faces another set of challenges as an older American living with HIV.
According to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), by 2015, half of all Americans living with HIV will be over the age of 50. While this statistic is mostly a result of medical advances that have greatly lengthened the life expectancies of people living with HIV, SAGE also notes that one of every six new HIV diagnoses is in a person over age 50. In addition to suffering other medical ailments, only half of those older Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV are in care, and only a third of them have suppressed viral loads.
While Kevin Lynch is under the care of the Veterans Health Administration from his career in the military, he knows all too well the challenges that HIV-positive people of his generation face. His recent six month check-up "just kept reminding me of the stigma that’s attached to [having HIV]. That’s what’s really hurting people my age."
"I get nervous," he said. "I know that I’m an openly HIV-positive person, but I hate to reveal how weak I am. It’s nerve-wracking to expose yourself to being vulnerable with this disease. We’re lucky we have these drugs that keep us strong, but the stigma hurts us psychologically."
For those like Kevin Lynch, who survived the plague’s earliest years, losing friends and lovers along the way, growing older can seem scary when stigma against HIV is still a concern. "It’s lonely out there," Kevin explained. "You can’t even seek solace in people you think will be your friends like in the gay community or healthcare providers because of this stigma."
In the struggle to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is important to remember that HIV isn’t ageist. As HRC Foundation Health and Aging Program Associate Director Tari Hanneman explained, "It is important that HIV prevention and service providers as well as general healthcare and aging service providers be aware of the graying of the HIV/AIDS epidemic so that they can develop services and resources to meet the unique needs of this population."
In honor of World AIDS Day, HRC Foundation released a new research brief entitled "Transgender People and HIV: What We Know"and is featuring the stories of individuals living with HIV on the HRC blog throughout this week. Stay tuned for more.