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Sex Education For Seniors
Changes In Medical School Classrooms
Changes In Medical School Classrooms Part 2
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National Association on HIV Over Fifty
Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging
AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland



Photos:

A group at the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland discusses what its like living with AIDS over 50.
Rosemary Geisbuhler of Cleveland was diagnosed with AIDS last year. Shes 56.
55-year old Clevelander LaVon Watkins learned he had AIDS six years ago.
Sharon Thomas, 57, has been living with AIDS for almost 20 years.
Dr. Kristin England of the Cleveland Clinic works with patients that have infectious diseases, specializing in HIV/AIDS. Shes been working to encourage other physicians to discuss sex and STD risks with older people.


It's often said when it comes to your health, prevention is the best medicine. But prevention requires knowledge. Today (Monday), 89.7 kicks off its series, "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You." Throughout the next week-and-a-half you'll hear in-depth reports on issues of wellbeing that often aren't getting the attention they deserve, and how the region's future healthcare providers are learning what they need to know. We begin with a look at a well-known disease, AIDS, and a population in the region, and across the country, that's increasingly dealing with it. People over 50 are starting to speak out about being infected with the disease and area agencies wants others to start talking about it more freely too.


WKSU's Renita Jablonski reports:

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It seems a little laughter is inevitable when it comes to discussing sex with your friends. LaVon Watkins has a great sense of humor about those awkward conversations and a smile that lights up a room.

LaVon Watkins: "They figure if you're over 50, they figure you're not having sex but that's why I think it's so important for the primary care physicians to bring the topic up."

The topic he's talking about is HIV-prevention. The 55-year old Clevelander says it's something he didn't hear a lot about until he got a call from his doctor about six years ago after a check-up.

LaVon Watkins: "I was diagnosed at the age of 49 but I was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS."

Rosemary Geisbuhler: "I was just diagnosed with AIDS of April 06."

Rosemary Geisbuhler, also of Cleveland, sits next to Lavon Watkins in a quiet room at the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. She takes a deep breath, looks down, and pushes her glasses up as she continues:

Rosemary Geisbuhler: "Um, I still find it's mind-blowing. You know, you got a lot of things out there about diabetics and stuff but there's not enough things out there about AIDS."

As Geisbuhler shares her thoughts about living with AIDS at age 56, Sharon Thomas reaches out and places her hand on Geisbuhler's shoulder. 57-year old Thomas has been living with the disease for nearly 20 years. The attractive blonde owned an area bar when she was diagnosed. These days she speaks to churches, schools, and other organizations in northeast Ohio about HIV and she tries to drive home it isn't something only teens, 20 and 30-somethings need to be educated about.

Sharon Thomas: "I don't think we think about things that people are widowed and people are divorced and with the whole baby boomer generation turning older, my concerns are people, you know, there's senior happy hours also and that changes our behaviors and a lot of people coming out of a divorce or that are widowed are lonely and want to be touched intimately."

Watkins and Geisbuhler nod in agreement. The trio speaks about the issue openly and as they all point out, people caring for patients over 50 aren't often as quick to do so. Susan Schwarzwald is on a team trying to change that.

Susan Schwarzwald: "I can find curricula for education in hospital systems, in public health systems for younger people, can't find one for older people. I'm sure it's out there. I just can't find it and so we're going to continue to search."

Schwarzwald is Director of the Community Services Department at the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging. W-R-A-A-A, along with the Cuyahoga County Department of Senior and Adult Services received a 30-thousand dollar grant to develop a program to teach health and social service providers how to talk to older adults about HIV and AIDS. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show people over 50 make up about 15-percent of new AIDS diagnoses every year. This month part of the grant money from the AIDS Funding Collaborative will be used to conduct focus groups made up of area physicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, and other senior outreach workers. The question is how often issues around sex and its risks are initiated with this population. Kristin Englund, a staff physician in infectious diseases at the Cleveland Clinic, says the fact is doctors are somewhat limited in their ability to recognize HIV is something they need to be discussing with older clients.

Dr. Kristin Englund: "Physicians themselves have their own biases, I suspect, as far as who is at risk and are certainly much more likely to be asking a 20, 30-year old, much more likely to be asking a gentlemen who has sex with men, and an I-V drug user, as opposed to say a 50-year old newly divorced woman who may be coming into their office."

And then there's something else to consider. Just how ready is the 50-plus patient to open up about sex?

Dr. Kristin Englund: "They've tended to grow up in an era where you simply listened to what the physican said, the physican wrote a prescription, gave it to you, and off you went."

Another thing that's different these days is the kind of prescriptions being written more for older adults.

Dr. Kristin Englund: "Viagra, and not to pick on any one drug or anything, but I think it has definitely made a difference in the sexuality of our older population. Thus as a result, our older patients are getting more sexually active."

And not necessarily more sexually active with just one partner. The increase in elder individuals with HIV and AIDS stretches beyond the popularity of drugs like Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis. As Earl Pike, Executive Director of the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland points out, other drugs are helping people with the disease live longer.

Earl Pike: "It's not at all atypical for someone to be diagnosed and still be alive 20, 22, 23 years later. So if you're diagnosed now and you're in your mid-30s you can well expect to live to be 55, 60, 65, maybe even 70 years old. None of us expected that."

Sharon Thomas didn't expect it when she tested positive for H-I-V at age 38. And now, speaking openly about her disease for almost the last two decades she's facing one of her biggest fears: growing old alone.

Sharon Thomas: "I've been very, very public about having the AIDS virus and it's really hard when you've been a face on that to try to find someone that you'd like to date and find out if they've been tested negative because usually for me I do disclosure immediately and that person is usually is out the door by the time I finish my sentence which makes it really lonely as we age."

It's that need for additional support too, a combination of stigma from having HIV or AIDS, and ageism that's driving the work of people like Susan Schwartzwald, Dr. Kristin Englund, and Earl Pike. All of them say awareness is growing but there's a long way to go. The Cleveland Clinic's Men's Minority Health fair on April 19th, for example, will offer free HIV testing along with things like prostate, diabetes, and hypertension screening. If the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging can't find a model for talking about sex risks to older adults it will establish one. And people live Sharon Thomas, Rosemary Geisbuhler, and LaVon Watkins say they'll keep talking too.

LaVon Watkins: "People over 50, we have to be honest with our doctors. They cannot treat us if we're not honest with them."

I'm Renita Jablonski, 89.7, WKSU.












Listener Comments:

Thanks for writing about this topic! Visiting Nurse Service of New York blogger and Director of Adult Day Care Services, Debbie Stricoff addressed sex education for seniors in her center where they talked about HIV/AIDS and safe sex. Check it out at http://blogs.vnsny.org/2011/04/05/sex-education-for-seniors/

Posted by: Stav New York, New York (New York, New York) on April 6, 2011 10:18AM
I WANT TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM I HAVE WITH FAST FOOD RESTUARANTS, DRUG PHARMACIES, BARTENDERS AND ETC, JUST TO NAME A FEW PLACES THAT EMPLOYED PEOPLE WORKS AT AND HANDLES WHAT WE CONSUMES INSIDE OUR BODIES. WHY, DO THEY HIRE EMPLOYEES WITHOUT THEM HAVING TO CONSENT TO TAKE AN AIDS TEST? MY OPINION, IS THAT EVERYONE SHOULD GET TESTED FOR ANY DISEASES, REGARDLESS OF RACE, GENDER,OR AGE. IT SHOULD BE DONE WITHOUT ANY DISCRIMINATION; WHATSOEVER. ALSO, IT WILL HELP KEEP A ESTIMATE OF HOW MANY IS AFFECTED. AND THEN YOU MIGHT HAVE SICK, CRAZY PEOPLE THAT WOULD GO THROUGH DISTANCE MEASURES IF THEY ARE INFECTED THAT MAY DO THINGS TO INFECT OTHERS WITH THEIR BLOOD OR SALIVA, OR PERHAPS SEMEN. OH YEAH, JUST THE THOUGHT; WHETHER YOU CAN BECOME INFECTED OR NOT THROUGH THOSE WAYS, WHO WANT TO EAT FROM THERE, WITH PEOPLE THAT DON'T CARE ABOUT OTHERS WELL BEING. THE ONES THAT THINK THEY COULD ENDANGER SOMEONE ELSE LIFE, BECAUSE THEY MAD THAT THEY ARE INFECTED. WELL, TELL ME WHAT'S YOUR OPINION. I'M INTERESTED IN YOUR RESPONSES!

Posted by: TABITHA JOHNSON (JOHNSON) on February 20, 2009 2:47AM
i sorry for everone dyin from the vires

Posted by: mecca brooklyn (brooklyn) on January 21, 2008 5:39PM
I just wanted to comment on this broadcast and say that I feel so strongly about having doctors talk to patients either thru workshops or just one on one conversations about HIV and AIDS. I am only 19 but I am actually doing a thesis report to foward to my local congressman, and the topic just really stood out. My 54 year old mother just recently divorced my father and is back out there in the dating scene. I didn't know how little she knew about sex education and I believe it was because of the era she grew up in. I want to make my mother more aware of the risks, as well as others who are divorced or widowed. Even the married, should have this knowledge, because you never know in today's society where the sanctity of marriage is not upheld. I also just wanted to post that the three of you are so brave and I really look up to you for trying to make a difference.

Posted by: Nicole Mazzella Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania) on October 4, 2007 1:45AM
I knew Sharon back then, before and after (Gary). Those were (as are most) different times. She was vivacious and enchanting. We were all feeling dissapointed and disenfranchised to some extent with the way the world, our world, was turing out, but she was always upbeat and working (not just talking) to make things better. She - was a dedicated individual. He, on the other hand, was not. Mr Hubbard can say what he likes, if he was there at the time I guarantee he'd have less to say about it today (at least if he were being honest). Sharon deserves an enormous amount of credit for her committment to being brutally honest, even though doing so drives her to her worst fear. I'm not sure she would have been so stalwart in times past - and I'm fairly certain that I would not have the resolve to be so principled in times present. Kudos, Sharon. I don't know if there is a God, but if it were me deciding, you'd get a second chance.

Posted by: Rick BFE (BFE) on July 4, 2007 12:18AM
I'm 30, my 31-yr-old partner was diagnosed with HIV several years ago. His T-cell count is now below 200 and now will begin treatment. I love him but I am always very stressed and worried. One of my life goals is to grow old with someone. I remember when he told me three years ago that he was HIV positive. I was crushed. Now after reading about Sharon, I have hope that I'll still have him with me for many years even if not as an AARP member. Thank you, lostdeviant@hotmail.com

Posted by: Christopher Mexico DF (Mexico DF) on May 16, 2007 2:50PM
Get your brickbats ready because some will not like what I am about to say... If people would stop thinking with their genitals and use their brains, Aids would not be an issue. We are all adults, not animals. We do have control of our actions, some just choose not to use their brains when taking action. We all know the dangers of sexual disease and if one doesn't, they need to come out into the light. For every action, there is a result. Now you can hit me! Bye

Posted by: Pat Hubbard Va. Beach (Va. Beach) on April 16, 2007 1:47PM
I strongly agree with the CDC's recommendation (Sept.06) that everyone 13 to 64 years of age be tested for HIV during routine exams. I think this would get people into care sooner and reduce the spread of HIV.

Posted by: LaVon Cleveland (Cleveland) on April 10, 2007 3:08PM

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What You Don't Know Can Hurt You is presented with support from the Area Agency on Aging, the Center for Community Solutions and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce.