Unfortunately, the lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS among older adults poses other risks. Typically, it takes about 10 years for someone infected with HIV to develop AIDS. Older adults exposed to HIV are also at greater risk because of weakened immune systems. Some 40 percent of people develop AIDS within one year of diagnosis, meaning they have delayed getting an HIV/AIDS test and therefore delayed seeking treatment. "It's quite common for older people to be diagnosed later," said Dr. Timothy Mastro, deputy director for science in CDC's division of HIV/AIDS prevention.
That's too bad, because education and a simple blood test can reverse that trend. "We'd like to see everyone get tested, at least one time," said Mastro. If someone is infected and remains undiagnosed, "that person can't get care and their immune system is being compromised." Testing can also help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. For example, two-thirds of infections are caused by individuals unaware they are infected.
"People can live decades now with HIV treatment," Mastro added.
But doctors and health care providers need to talk to older patients about their sex lives, drug use, and HIV/AIDS prevention, said Fowler, who has not developed AIDS and considers herself otherwise healthy. She said, "I expect to die from something else when my times comes."