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March 4, 1997

Alabama Gerontological Society Hosts HIV/AIDS in Older Adults Workshop

by Paul H. Carlson,

"People in their 50's through their mid-eighties are angry", said Mr. Scott Mickley of the Escambia Co. Health Dept.(FL). They are angry about being left out of new drug trials, about being left out of research studies, about losing their insurance, and about not being told about prevention of HIV/AIDS. Things are improving in Florida, and he reported recent successes with insurance coverage for older adults with HIV/AIDS and better prevention-education.

Having worked over l0 years with communicable diseases, Mr. Mickley's statistics, analyses of the problems faced by older adults with AIDS and the families of those with AIDS, and his experiences with health care workers who exhibit judgmentalism, discrimination, and ageism, were extremely enlightening.

Cindy Nelms, RN, Exec. Dir. of Mobile AIDS Support Services, spoke to the audience about the need to inform older adults about their particular risk factors for contracting HIV. Her agency is a small community service organization which serves those infected and affected by HIV in the 7-county area of lower Alabama. She, her small staff, new AmeriCorps nursing assistants, and hundreds of volunteers provide necessary services and case management to all those many hundreds of people needing assistance each month. She said, "We're all at risk if we have unprotected sex outside of a "truly monogamous" relationship. On this point, Paul Carlson, RN, announced to the audience that the AARP has made a video entitled, "HIV/AIDS: It Can Happen to Me". It very concisely puts into personal perspective what it means to be married, and still contract HIV. For an older adult, maybe a grandmother, this is devastating, not only to her but to her entire family.

Dr. Roma Hanks, prof., University of South Alabama, originally suggested that this issue be brought to the attention of the members of the Alabama Gerontological Society, especially since anywhere from l0 to l4% of the AIDS cases (depending on the area of the country) are in those over 50. The numbers of those older adults becoming infected with HIV are increasing, and with the "Baby Boomer" cohort now in their early 50's, we can expect even greater increases in the infection rate in older adults.

All panel members encouraged attendees to learn the facts and begin to help educate older adults about their risks for contracting HIV. AIDS is a totally preventable disease!

Marianne McCrory, RN, presented her personal appeal that everyone from across the state in attendance at the conference do everything they can to help educate older adults and health care workers about the age-related risk factors for elders contracting HIV. Ms McCrory has been an active volunteer with Mobile AIDS Support Services for over a year. She said, "I never knew there was a problem with HIV/AIDS in older adults until I started researching the issue with colleagues through Mobile AIDS Support Services".

This l6th Annual Conference of the Alabama Gerontological Society was held Feb. 24-27, l997, at the Marriott's Grand Hotel in Point Clear, AL.

Paul Carlson is Registered Nurse and President-Elect, The Gerontological Council of the Alabama State Nurses' Association

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