The miracle of growing old was all but unimaginable for them 30 years ago, at the dawn of the age of AIDS. But today the number of people 50 and older diagnosed with HIV or living with AIDS is booming, both across the country and in Sacramento County, where they account for more than a quarter of the 3,300 known cases.
That percentage is expected to double within the next four years, making older adults America's fastest growing HIV demographic.
"The 45- to 64-year-old age group is growing so fast because they've survived," said Janet Parker, client services director for Sacramento's Center for AIDS Research Education and Services (CARES). "For the most part, they're not new infections. The population is aging."
Even so, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, people who are 50 and older account for more than 15 percent of the nation's new HIV diagnoses.
These days, longtime survivors as well as the newly infected share not only a diagnosis but also a hopeful prognosis: With good medical care, they can live to a ripe old age.
"Some of our patients have been through it all," said Dr. Jody Gordon, a Sutter Medical Group HIV specialist whose practice includes a handful of patients in their 70s and 80s. "And some were infected after 50 and have been treated with good medications.
"If you are 50 and contract HIV, the overwhelming probability is that we can get you on a regimen and allow you to continue with your normal work. And you'll live close to a normal life span."
Not surprisingly, the lion's share of older people with HIV are gay men who have lived with the virus since the early days of the epidemic. Besides the normal issues of aging, they face medical challenges because of the long-term toll of the antiretroviral medications they take to keep the virus under control.
But they're alive.
"I watched the rise of Harvey Milk in the Castro" district of San Francisco, said Joseph Rosenblatt, 58, a former IT manager who moved to Sacramento in 2004. "I watched old Victorians get turned into condos, and I watched the brothers in the condos die of AIDS.
"It was a time of glory and celebration, and then we were attacked by this unknown disease. People were dying all over the place."
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