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Sexual risk behaviors and HIV risk among Americans aged 50 years or older: a review

Authors Pilowsky D, Wu L

Received 6 December 2014

Accepted for publication 4 February 2015

Published 21 April 2015 Volume 2015:6 Pages 51—60

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S78808

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 6


Daniel J Pilowsky,1,2 Li-Tzy Wu3,4

1Columbia University Medical Center, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health New York City, NY, USA; 2Division of Epidemiology, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York City, NY, USA; 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, 4Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

Abstract: Although HIV-related sexual risk behaviors have been studied extensively in adolescents and young adults, there is limited information about these behaviors among older Americans, which make up a growing segment of the US population and an understudied population. This review of the literature dealing with sexual behaviors that increase the risk of becoming HIV-infected found a low prevalence of condom use among older adults, even when not in a long-term relationship with a single partner. A seminal study by Schick et al published in 2010 reported that the prevalence of condom use at last intercourse was highest among those aged 50–59 years (24.3%; 95% confidence interval, 15.6–35.8) and declined with age, with a 17.1% prevalence among those aged 60–69 years (17.1%; 95% confidence interval, 7.3–34.2). Studies have shown that older Americans may underestimate their risk of becoming HIV-infected. Substance use also increases the risk for sexual risk behaviors, and studies have indicated that the prevalence of substance use among older adults has increased in the past decade. As is the case with younger adults, the prevalence of HIV infections is elevated among ethnic minorities, drug users (eg, injection drug users), and men who have sex with men. When infected, older adults are likely to be diagnosed with HIV-related medical disorders later in the course of illness compared with their younger counterparts. Physicians are less likely to discuss sexual risk behaviors with older adults and to test them for HIV compared with younger adults. Thus, it is important to educate clinicians about sexual risk behaviors in the older age group and to design preventive interventions specifically designed for older adults.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS, older adults, aging, sexual risk behaviors, condom use

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