Sex Education For Seniors
Changes In Medical School Classrooms
Changes In Medical School Classrooms Part 2
Wired For Wellness
Getting The Lead Out
Creating Healthy Work Places
Mental Health Parity
Back to WKSU Home
|A group at the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland discusses what it’s like living with AIDS over 50.|
|Rosemary Geisbuhler of Cleveland was diagnosed with AIDS last year. She’s 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. She’s 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.
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.