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In 2010/2011 The Erie County Health Department
conducted a study on the health behavior of adults
age 65+, with regard to their sexuality. That is when
we learned that 20% of Erie County’s older adults,
surveyed, reported that they have had sex with more
than one person in the past year.
HIV (Human Immunodefciency Virus) is primarily
a sexually transmitted infection. When HIV has
progressed to severe impairment, based on T-cell
count of 200 or less, the patient is referred to as having
Acquired Immune Defciency Syndrome (AIDS).
More older adults are living with HIV. This is due to
acquiring HIV as a middle aged adult and not being
diagnosed until later life. Other contributing causes
are divorce, having more than one sexual partner;
and engaging in male to male sex in later life. Also, as
Dr. Brandt explains, “People who are HIV positive are
being effectively treated, so that they are able to grow
old with the disease”.
Erie County’s 20% statistic does not surprise Dr.
Brandt. He says, “This statistic would surprise the
majority of family physicians.” “Older adults need to
be open with their physician about their sexuality”.
“Sexually transmitted infections are out there! If you
continue to be sexually active, knowing that more
people are living longer with HIV and being sexually
active, too, the risk of infection over time is likely to be
greater”. “40,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.”
“On a yearly basis about 15% of new HIV infections are
people age 50 and older”.
Dr. Brandt implores sexually active older adults, who
are not in a long-term, monogamous relationship, to
use a condom and discuss their sexual habits with their
doctor. Why? Because HIV does not always present
symptoms in an older patient the way symptoms are
seen in a young or middle-aged adult. “Nine years
ago, I had a patient who is 79, today”. “He went from
doctor to doctor for his continuous weight loss”. “He’d
been widowed 10 -15 years and was sexually active”.
“I can’t tell you how many colonoscopies and other
tests this man went through before he stumbled into
our offce”. “I was able to diagnose by asking, Are you
sexually active”? “It turned out he was sexually active
with men, a risk factor for HIV infection. No one had
ever asked him before”.
“Another example of how symptoms are different in
later life is this… For younger adults, someone with
HIV may have a severe sore throat, rash and fever, just
like a case of Mononucleosis”. “Older adults are less
likely to respond with these same symptoms. Older
patients are more likely to have unexplained fatigue
and weight loss”. “In other cases, some older patients
could look/act as if they have dementia”. “Treat the HIV
and the dementia goes away.”
I asked Dr. Brandt what he hopes the readers will
take away from this article and he replied, “Take your
own sexual inventory to determine if you have been
at risk”. “HIV/AIDS is not contracted through kissing”.
Serving Our Seniors is someone to call when you need help.
419-624-1856 800-564-1856
- Robert Brandt, Jr., MD
In March 2013 I attended the University of Toledo’s 17th Annual
Geriatric Medicine Symposium, where I heard Robert Brandt, Jr., MD,
Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and practicing physician speak on
the topic of Aging & HIV. His expertise is HIV/AIDS, Family Medicine,
Addiction Medicine, Sexually Transmitted Infection Medicine, Gay and
Lesbian Health Issues, Transgender Medicine. In April, I interviewed
Dr. Brandt to educate our readers about how HIV is changing who it
affects and how its symptoms are different in later life. It is with some
trepidation that I publish this article in such clear and frank terms. I do
so recognizing that this problem is very serious. I cannot pretend that
softer/more ambiguous language is what will serve the public best. For
those who might fnd blunt, yet true information about sexual behavior
offensive, it is recommended that you do not read the second from
the last paragraph. The purpose of the information contained in that
paragraph is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Erie County.
By Sue Daugherty
It’s A Reality