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NYC seniors learn about HIV dangers

July 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — While volunteers passed out cups of Jell-O to the white-haired lunch crowd at a senior center, another group was distributing something that didn't quite fit amid the card games and daily gossip: condoms.

"You're giving out condoms," 82-year-old Rose Crescenzo said with a wistful smile, "but who's going to give us a guy?"

But this was no joke.

The condom giveaway is part of an effort by New York City's Department for the Aging to educate older people about the risks of contracting the virus that causes AIDS. After the condom giveaway, free HIV testing was offered.

AIDS education of the elderly has become an important issue as antiretroviral drugs that can keep patients living into their golden years change the face of AIDS. Experts warn that ignorance about HIV among seniors can lead to new infections.

And those infections are happening. A physician from Howard University Hospital in Washington recently diagnosed unsuspected HIV in an 82-year-old.

So HIV educators are taking their message of prevention to senior centers and other locales where older people meet. They also hope to create a welcoming environment for people who already have the virus.

New York City has the most HIV cases of any U.S. city -- nearly 100,000 -- and is considered a leader in the area of AIDS education for seniors, with the City Council having budgeted $1 million toward HIV education for older people.

But smaller-scale campaigns are also underway elsewhere.

Nancy Orel, a professor of gerontology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, is organizing a workshop for seniors that will include free condoms and HIV tests.

"Unfortunately, most individuals have the perception that sex ends at, what, 32?" Orel said. "And many older adults report that when they go to see their physicians, the physicians don't ask if they're sexually active."

The program at the Peter Cardella Senior Center would have been unthinkable back when AIDS was known as a disease that strikes its victims young and kills them in their prime. But the aging of America's AIDS population has changed that.

"Often older people do not concern themselves with HIV and AIDS because they assume that they are not at risk, and that can be a tragic mistake," said Edwin Mendez-Santiago, New York City's commissioner for the aging.

A study last year by the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America projected that within the next decade, the majority of HIV-infected New Yorkers will be older than 50.

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