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The Gerontologist 46:781-790 (2006)
© 2006 The Gerontological Society of America

"You're Awfully Old to Have This Disease": Experiences of Stigma and Ageism in Adults 50 Years and Older Living With HIV/AIDS

Charles A. Emlet, PhD, MSW1

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Charles A. Emlet, PhD, University of Washington, Tacoma, 1900 Commerce Street, Tacoma, WA 98402. E-mail: caemlet{at}

Purpose: Older adults living with HIV infection may be doubly stigmatized, as they are branded by both age as well as HIV status. Through semistructured interviews, this study sought to examine whether older adults with HIV/AIDS experience both ageism and HIV stigma and how those experiences manifest in their lives. Design and Methods: This was a qualitative study in which 25 in-depth interviews were completed with adults aged 50 years and older who were living with HIV or AIDS. Purposive sampling was used to recruit these individuals who shared their experiences. Open coding and axial coding of interview transcripts were completed on all interviews, resulting in the development of a framework of these experiences.  Results: The majority (68%) of the respondents experienced both ageism and HIV-associated stigma. The experiences were often separate, although some interrelated stigma did occur. Nine themes emerged from the interviews, including rejection, stereotyping, fear of contagion, violations of confidentiality, and internalized ageism. All themes fell into four categories: social discrimination, institutional discrimination, anticipatory stigma, and other. Implications: The research identified themes that may be sources of felt as well as enacted stigma and discrimination related to both aging and HIV. This concept of double jeopardy exists in the lives of the majority of people interviewed and has relevance to the creation of appropriate intervention strategies.

Key Words: Ageism • Discrimination • HIV/AIDS • Qualitative methods • Stigma

All GSA journals Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Copyright © 2006 by The Gerontological Society of America.