The US Senate Aging Committee heard testimony on September 18, the sixth annual National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, from five witnesses testifying about the challenges facing aging HIV-infected people. Witnesses noted that states with large aging HIV-infected populations experienced greater impact than other states. According to Kenneth Miller, executive director of Maine’s Down East AIDS Network, older HIV-infected people who lived in rural areas faced complicated health issues, including lack of access to medical care and mental health treatment.
Miller stated that older, rural patients also isolated themselves because of stigma against those who were gay and had HIV. Other difficulties specific to rural HIV-infected people included transportation to physician’s appointments and lack of access to social support networks. Miller recommended ways to improve the system of care, including awareness and outreach. He advised that this population was vulnerable to depression and might not have access to mental health screening and care.
Although treatment advances had extended life expectancy for HIV patients, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) cautioned older Americans not to stereotype HIV as a young person’s disease. Older Americans also were vulnerable to HIV and should “exercise the same kind of care” if they were engaging in high-risk behaviors.