Mental health also can be affected. The stigma of the disease can prevent older patients from getting tested. They can risk isolating themselves, and might not have adequate support networks.

Public health officials have increased their focus on older HIV/AIDS patients. Age-specific support groups have sprouted up. Baltimore health officials have offered free HIV tests at the city's senior centers.

HIV/AIDS patients are also playing a role in speaking out about the issue.

Coley, the former heroin user, is one of them.

With his own home, his job and a healthful lifestyle, Coley is in many respects living a better life with HIV than before he contracted the virus. He says he hasn't taken drugs in 16 years.

He sees many more years of good living in his future. His grandmother died three years ago at age 98. Her sister is still alive at 106.

"Longevity runs in my family, " Coley said. "I suspect another good 20 or 30 years."

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com:ankwalker

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