September 19, 2013

Health care a challenge for elderly with HIV

As people with the disease age, the need for services gains urgency in older and more rural states like Maine.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

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Kenney Miller, executive director of the Down East AIDS Network, testifies Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, during a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on the challenges Maine and other rural states face as numbers increase of people over age 50 who have HIV or AIDS. Miller’s agency works with HIV/AIDS patients in Hancock and Washington counties.

Photo by Vein Miller

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"It actually runs itself down," Johnston said. "The immune system literally is tired out and is unable to function properly anymore."

Also discussed Wednesday was the fact that 11 percent of all new diagnoses in the U.S. in recent years have been for people older than 50.

Speakers called for routine HIV testing of older adults and spending on research and development for a cure. They also said there must be a campaign to educate older adults about the importance of condom use and to counter misconceptions about older people's love lives.

"I think where we are still challenged is the fact that too many health care providers don't know how to talk to their clients and patients about sex," said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of HIV/AIDS & Infectious Disease Policy. "And they also make the assumption that older Americans are not sexually active."

Maine is actually ahead of many other states in ensuring that HIV patients have access to health care. The state made it easier for more people to qualify for Medicaid coverage by raising the cutoff for income.

James Markiewicz, who directs the Maine CDC's program for HIV, sexually transmitted disease and viral hepatitis, said 98 percent of the people in a special federal program for HIV clients have some form of insurance. So while the aging of HIV patients presents challenges, Markiewicz said it is one of many health care issues facing Maine's graying population.

"HIV has become one of those things that we think about when we discuss how to deliver health care to an aging population," Markiewicz said in an interview from Maine.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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