By Dr. Gail Barouh
Healthy Aging Month is an annual observance month designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older, it promotes taking personal responsibility for one’s health. Growing older in a healthy way is what LIAAC had in mind when it created our “Seasoned Adult” Program.
LIAAC was awarded a five- year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to respond to the emerging and lesser known HIV and substance abuse epidemic among adults aged 50 and over. This initiative, which we call the Seasoned Adults Program, will be used to address the need for outreach, prevention services, and testing in Long Island communities disproportionately affected by HIV, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (HIV/HCV/STD) and substance abuse (SA), specifically targeting our region’s at-risk, ethnic/racial minority populations age 50 and older.
Over the last 50 years, the age distribution of the US population has shifted due to longer life expectancies and the aging of the baby boomers, and Long Island is in synch with those trends. According to the Long Island Index (Rauch Foundation, 2009), between 2000 and 2006, the share of the Long Island population aged 55 and over grew by 2.5 percent, well above the national growth rate of 1.9%. As the number of older adults in our region increased, the need for targeted, culturally competent HIV/HCV/STD and SA prevention and treatment services increased as well and LIAAC is ready to take on this new challenge.
LIAAC has over 25 years of experience in providing field based HIV and SA prevention services and has recognized that despite myths that older adults are not at risk for HIV, this population is, in fact, engaging in risky behaviors. According to the New York State HIV/AIDS Surveillance Annual Report for Cases Diagnosed Through December, 2007, 18% of new HIV infections on Long Island and 30% of late diagnoses (progressing to AIDS within one year) were among older adults. The CDC estimates that by 2015, people over 50 will account for half of all Americans living with HIV.
Having lived much of their lives in a time when HIV was unknown, many older adults perceive HIV as being a gay-related disease or one that only sexually active, younger people need to be concerned with. Many older adults are divorced or widowed and may be dating. Unfortunately, this population may never have received formalized training and education on HIV/STD prevention like our young people do, and few would think of using condoms or would even be aware of how to use them correctly. With more time for sexual activity and the use of medications which increase the frequency and length of sexual encounters, more seniors are putting themselves at risk for contracting HIV/HCV/STDs.
LIAAC’s will deliver mobile HIV/HCV/STD and SA prevention and testing services to our targeted population. HIV counseling, testing, and referrals will be offered. In order to improve access to our mobile services, we will be adding new locations such as: Retirement Communities, Senior Centers, Assisted Living Facilities, low income senior housing and other community service providers who offer medical and social support to our target population. And now in light of the CDC’s recommendation that all baby-boomers be tested for Hepatitis C, it has given a new focus to this aspect of our program.
LIAAC is currently unaware of any other existing program on Long Island that exclusively targets older adults for HIV/HCV/STD and SA prevention services. We are excited that SAMHSA has chosen us to spearhead this initiative. If you would like to learn more about this new initiative, please feel free to contact us at 1-877-865-4222.