Date of Completion

May 2007

Honors Major

Human Development and Family Studies


The purpose of this study is to fill a gap in the literature by investigating how an ignored population of women, women over age 50, copes with HIV/ AIDS. Older women are referred to as "invisible victims" with regard to HIV/AIDS. Previous research on coping with HIV/ AIDS focuses mostly on men. Of the research that does focus on women, older women are often overlooked. Although older women are a minority compared to other HIV-infected populations in the US, they are just as deserving of recognition and care as any other population.

Data was collected through open-ended, in-depth interviews with four women individually. Recruitment of the sample is from several health institutions serving HIV/AIDS populations. The major topics discussed in the interviews include: demographics, what it is like to live with HIV or AIDS, and way of coping with HIV/ AIDS, including social support, religion, and health behaviors. The data analysis process is a qualitative one, with exploration of major themes and presentation of rich descriptions to illustrate those themes.

Results from the data show that in terms of coping, all four participants found it most difficult to cope with a different aspect of living with HIV. Regardless of this finding, participants still employed similar coping strategies. As hypothesized, social support and religious/ spiritual support are important aspects in coping with HIV for all participants. The use of education as a coping mechanism was not an anticipated result. Yet, education was a constant theme, whether it was educating oneself about the disease to better understand it or educating others as to prevent them from contracting HIV. A variety of different positive coping strategies were employed by the participants in coping with their HIV, including altering negative health habits and staying optimistic. Negative coping strategies were also employed, but these seemed to be discussed less throughout the interviews. Overall, the results of this study demonstrate the resilience of these women in terms of finding ways of living with HIV instead of dying from HIV.