Social Impact

Statistics show that HIV/AIDS is not just a young person’s disease

Documentary spotlights the growing epidemic among middle-aged and older adults in communities of color

April 07, 2016 Vincent Lim

HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment efforts often focus on young adults and other populations considered the most sexually active and at risk. Yet statistics show that HIV/AIDS is not just a young person’s disease.

Karen Lincoln, associate professor at the USC School of Social Work, organized a Visions and Voices screening and discussion of Even Me at the USC School of Cinematic Arts that hopes to change perceptions.

The film highlights the rise of HIV/AIDS among middle-aged and older adults in communities of color.

Even Me is more than a documentary; it is a tool designed to bring awareness of the HIV crisis among an invisible population,” said Megan Ebor, who produced the film and has worked in the field of aging for more than 15 years.

Surprising numbers

According to the film, 50 percent of people living in the United States with HIV are over age 50.

We hope that the film will raise awareness of the significance of this issue for our communities.

Karen Lincoln

“These rates are alarming, yet little attention is given to this segment of our population,” Lincoln said. “We hope that the film will highlight this epidemic and raise awareness of the significance of this issue for our communities.”

Health care providers can be unwilling to initiate conversations with middle-aged and older adults about sensitive topics like their patients’ sex lives, drug use or HIV/AIDS status. Some physicians also assume that older patients are not at a high risk for infection compared to younger populations. Data suggests otherwise.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that people age 50 or older account for 21 percent of all HIV diagnoses and 27 percent of all AIDS diagnoses in the United States.

Complicating the issue is the fact that HIV/AIDS symptoms can be easily mistaken for the normal aches and pains of aging.

In the documentary and the panel discussion following the screening, older HIV-positive African-Americans in Los Angeles shared their stories of living and aging with the disease.

One of the people interviewed in the film, Lloyd, talked about his experiences volunteering for AIDS Project Los Angeles. He noticed the striking demographics of the volunteers for the organization.

“Two-thirds of the people over there are over 50 years old. You don’t see anyone young,” he said. “They were like me. They didn’t start learning until they got caught up in it. It could have been prevented.”

Stories of support

Ebor said it was difficult finding people who wanted to share their experiences on camera — particularly older, heterosexual men of color like Lloyd.

“When I started out in this field over 30 years ago, it was all about gay men,” said Carrie Broadus, executive director of Women Alive, an organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of women of color and their families affected by HIV/AIDS. “Pretty much today, it’s still about gay men.”

Ebor found many of the people for her film through Broadus, who allowed her access to a closed-door support group.

“It is through these peer-to-peer programs that people are able to come together and address issues like stigma and fear,” Broadus said. “They can look across from each other and know that they’re not walking along the path by themselves.”

One of the reasons that older patients are less likely to discuss sexual health issues with their physicians is because of feelings of shame and fear.

“I had no family support,” Lloyd said. “My support came from going to group meetings.”

Wanda, another person interviewed for the film, described how she went from never knowing how to use a condom and being terrified by her diagnosis to becoming an advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

“I’m not afraid anymore. We’re survivors,” she said. “I became an advocate and don’t mind talking about it.”

A word from our sponsors

Statistics show that older African women like Wanda are at significant risk of dying from HIV/AIDS.

“HIV is now the fourth-leading cause of death among African-American women over 49 years old,” Lincoln said.

The event, funded and supported through Visions and Voices — USC’s arts and humanities initiative that brings together artists and scholars from multiple fields offering innovative, interdisciplinary programming — was sponsored by the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, Advocates for African American Elders, the USC Hartford Center of Excellence in Geriatric Social Work and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.