From the Philadelphia Gay News

April 16, 2015

By Megan Threats, Mark Strandquist and Courtney Bowles

At the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, people who were diagnosed were expected to live only one to two years after diagnosis. Today, life expectancy for people living with HIV/AIDS has increased tremendously, due in large part to new medications and treatments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people 55 and older accounted for almost one-fifth of the estimated 1.1-million people living with HIV infection in the United States in 2010. With the increase in life expectancy for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, there has been a focus on addressing issues related to aging with HIV.

To transform narratives around these issues, the LGBT Elder Initiative is hosting the exciting event, “Still Here: Defiant Aging and HIV” May 23 at the John C. Anderson Apartments, 251 S. 13th St. The event will bring artists, activists, friends and neighbors together for a day of art, storytelling and transformation. Throughout the event, we will take outdated HIV medical materials from the AIDS Library, tear them up, turn them into new, beautiful blank sheets of paper and embed those sheets with community histories of survival, resilience and defied expectations. Transforming outdated medical materials into blank sheets of paper will create a powerful platform for the individuals most impacted by these issues to author their own histories. Each handmade sheet of paper will be sewn together and turned into a beautiful, hand-crafted book that will become part of the AIDS Library’s permanent collection for future patrons to read.

Please find some answers to frequently asked questions about aging with AIDS:

Aging and sexual risk

Q: Do older people living in the United States have the same risk factors for HIV infection as younger people?

A: Yes. Inconsistent condom use, multiple partners and lack of knowledge about HIV and how to prevent transmission are a few of the shared risk factors among older and younger people.

Q: Are women who have gone through menopause still at risk?

A: Yes. Age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue may raise older women’s risk for HIV infection. Women who are no longer able to get pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and to practice safer sex.

Top HIV/AIDS risks for older adults:

1. Older people are less likely to talk about their sex lives or drug use with doctors.

2. HIV-prevention education is largely targeted at younger people.

3. Health-care providers may not test older people for HIV infection.

4. Health-care educators and providers often don’t talk with older people about HIV/AIDS prevention.

5. Physicians may not diagnose HIV infection in older people, associating the early symptoms of HIV with normal signs of aging.

6. Older people may not discuss HIV/AIDS with family and friends due to the stigma of the disease

Taking many different medications to deal with different health problems can make it more difficult for a doctor to choose anti-HIV drugs due to interactions with other medications. It is important to speak with your doctor about how you are feeling. Despite the effects of aging with HIV/AIDS, it is possible to live a healthy life. According to AIDSinfonet, older people may be better about adhering to medications than younger people. Older people living with HIV need a strong community of support, which may be outside of their nuclear family.

Do you or someone you love have a story of resilience? Of defied expectations? Of survival?

Join us for the free event, “Still Here: Defiant Aging and HIV” May 23 at JCAA. The event will be hosted by the LGBTEI in collaboration with the AIDS Library and the People’s Paper Co-op.

Please join us for this exciting event. Our history is ours to create together!

Megan Threats is the Public Services and Reference Librarian at the AIDS Library of Philadelphia.

Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist are artists, educators, and community activists who utilize collaborative public art as a vehicle for engaging with systemic social issues. They founded the People’s Library and Windows From Prison projects, and are the co-directors of the art and legal advocacy at the People’s Paper Co-op at the Village of Arts and Humanities.