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 Spotlight On Banner

Depicting HIV/AIDS
Older Adults

ABrian NEW Headshot Message from EIC's President, CEO & Co-Founder, Brian Dyak

According to the CDC, the number of women over 55 living with HIV increased 24 percent from 2007 to 2009 and the number of women over 55 living with AIDS more than tripled between 2000 and 2009 [Source]. Ending the trend of new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS begins with awareness—awareness about how to protect yourself, how to get tested, and how to protect others.

In this installment of Spotlight On, we would like to focus on older adults, who as a population, are experiencing an increase in number of diagnoses. Older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger people do. They do not always know how it spreads or the importance of using condoms, not sharing needles, getting tested for HIV and talking about it with their doctor [Source]. Our profile this week focuses on Nell Davis, a woman who was 62 years old when she was diagnosed with HIV, having contracted it from her husband who never told her that he had tested positive before they were married. Nell’s story may be all too familiar to many individuals and now she has dedicated her life to spreading awareness and teaching women of her generation to stay informed and protect themselves. Consider stories like Nell’s when you explore older adults through your characters and storylines to help foster awareness about HIV/AIDS among this population.

 Did you know?
  • While most new HIV infections are still in younger people, women over 50 are getting HIV at an increasing rate.
  • Many people living with HIV (HIV+) are living longer, healthier lives because of the success of newer HIV drugs.
  • It is estimated that by 2015, almost half of all people in the US living with HIV (HIV+) will be over 50.


 In this issue... HIV/AIDS in older adults
  • A Message from Brian Dyak
  • Suggestions for Depicting HIV/AIDS
  • Did you know?
  • Profile On: Nell Davis [Real Story]
Tips for Depicting HIV/AIDS

When it comes to depicting HIV/AIDS remember that everyone can be at risk regardless of age, marital status, socioeconomic status, or race. Nell’s story is a perfect example of the importance of safe sex practices and awareness of risk factors for all ages.
  • Attempt to avoid stereotypes that only certain types of people are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, because everyone needs to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.
  • Older women who have gone through menopause may associate condom use only with pregnancy prevention. Think about ways that you can spotlight older adults using safe sex practices for the sole purpose of protection from HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
  • When depicting HIV/AIDS remember that older adults can be at risk for being diagnosed later in life. Consider ways that you can incorporate couples getting tested for STDs into your storylines.
  • In this week's Profile On, Nell Davis' life was turned upside down when she discovered that her husband had kept his HIV diagnosis from her. Consider ways that you can showcase your character protecting those around them by being open about their HIV status to their partner, allowing him or her the ability to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.

  Profile On: Nell Davis [Real Story]

 Nell Davis
Ask Nell Davis what advice she gives to women about preventing HIV/AIDS, and she quickly responds, “I tell them not to trust. You cannot trust anyone with your life.”

Nell reached this conclusion the hard way, after trusting someone with hers.

  • She was 62 years old when she learned she had contracted HIV.
  • He was a member of her church – a deacon, in fact.
  • And he was her husband.
  • And he never told her he had tested positive for HIV before he married her.
A few months into her marriage, Nell accidentally knocked her husband’s bible from the nightstand and noticed some papers falling loose. As she tried to put everything back in its place, she was struck by a letter folded in half. “I cannot explain the feeling, but I needed to know what was in that letter,” she said.

When she opened it, she saw that the letter contained a positive diagnosis for HIV, and urged her husband to seek medical attention. She never recalled him taking any medications or going to see any doctors.

“We promised each other on our wedding night there would be no secrets,” she started saying, after she asked him to come home in the middle of the workday that day. “We said we’d talk to each other about anything and everything. We didn’t care how bad or ugly it was. So, was there anything you forgot to tell me?”

Her husband acknowledged their agreement and said there was nothing he’d forgotten to tell her. She asked him again. Again, he said, “I’ve told you everything. I don’t have any secrets.”

A third time, she asked him, “Was there anything you forgot to tell me?” But this time, she added, “Before we got married.” He didn’t recognize the hint.

“Did you forget to tell me about this?” Nell asked, as she showed him the letter.

Her husband hung his head and said he was afraid if he’d told her, she wouldn’t have married him.

“This is the worst kind of betrayal possible. You don’t do this to someone you love and care about,” Nell said to him. “You were my soulmate, and I trusted you with my life. If you would have told me, we could have gotten through it. If you had been honest, I would have had more respect for you, and I still would have married you. I would have been able to protect myself.”

She quickly realized that the extended illness that had plagued her months prior was a bad sign. She had felt fatigued and missed a lot of work, and was even ill and bedridden during her honeymoon.

She immediately got tested, and couldn’t eat or sleep for the painstaking two weeks that she had to wait for the results, because she believed the positive diagnosis she was likely to receive would be her death sentence. As an in-home service nurse, she had not had to deal with any patients with HIV/AIDS, and she never felt a need to learn about it before.
Now divorced, Nell is an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. Despite feeling that the stigma of HIV has not lessened in the years since her diagnosis, she knows she is making a difference. She has even been recognized in airports as a key participant in a an independent film called, “Endgame: AIDS in Black America” that first aired on PBS’s documentary series Frontline in 2012 and again online for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in March.

“We women of a mature age who are going through a divorce, or already divorced, or widowed still want companionship, and we think we’re safe because of our age. But HIV does not care about age,” she said. “We tend to be nurturers and givers. We put ourselves last. At my age, we tend to be more worried about things like arthritis, but we are living longer, and having active sex lives. We must protect ourselves!”

What does Nell advise women about to get married?
“I tell women of any age in a monogamous relationship and about to be married to ask the person who wants to be in their life to show them their test results. Or, better yet, “Go together and get tested,” she said. When people tell her they have to trust someone in this world, her reply is, “Yes, so trust yourself first. If your partner is not willing to make that kind of commitment to you to get tested together, move on! This is your red flag. Run for your life! Run as fast as you can!”
Today, Nell works tirelessly, helping newly diagnosed women to adjust to living with HIV. She also shares her story whenever she can, in hopes that she can help prevent what happened to her from happening to other women.

Although the film featuring Nell is about AIDS in black America, the stories transcend race, according to Renata Simone, the director, producer and writer of the “Endgame” film. Women who hear Nell’s story relate to her as a mother, a grandma, and even a great grandma.

Using leaflets and age appropriate heart-to-heart talks, Nell has helped educate her friends, members of her church, women she’s never met, and even her 5 adult children, 17 grandchildren and nearly all 6 great grandchildren about HIV/AIDS.

“Grandma is still Grandma,” she says with a smile.

 For more information on Nell contact
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August 8, 2013 - 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Location: TBD

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