HIV and Aging
About HIV & Aging
At the start of the epidemic more than 30 years ago, people who were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS could expect to live only 1-2 years after that diagnosis. This meant that the issues of aging were not a focus for people with HIV disease, or researchers in the scientific community.
Having provided services for people living with HIV for since the beginning of the epidemic, we have witnessed the transition from short- to long-term life expectancy of our clients. Today, many of our older clients have more acute medical issues and significantly more economic and psychosocial needs. Face to Face serves as the hub of HIV services in Sonoma County and continues to provide valuable care, case management, and coordinated services to our aging clients living with HIV. We are in uncharted waters and are learning together what it means to age with HIV. These early-onset and other psychosocial concerns have brought the issue of aging with HIV to the forefront of HIV care.
Today, more than half of all people living with HIV in the United States are 50 years or older. This is mostly because people are living much longer with HIV thanks to effective antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, but also because of essential supportive services like housing, food, and benefits. With this longer life expectancy, individuals living with long-term HIV infection exhibit many clinical characteristics commonly observed in aging: multiple chronic diseases or conditions, the use of multiple medications, changes in physical and cognitive abilities, and increased vulnerability to stressors. However, research increasingly shows that diseases that typically strike HIV-negative people in their 60s and 70s are occurring in people with HIV in their 40s and 50s. HIV also appears to increase the risk for several age-associated diseases, as well as to cause chronic inflammation throughout the body. This is because a person living with HIV’s immune system has had to work harder, even with the support of HIV treatment, at staying healthy.
Chronic inflammation is associated with a number of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, lymphoma, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers are working to better understand what causes chronic inflammation, even when people are being treated with ART for their HIV disease. One of the biggest unanswered questions is why this is occurring. Some ARVs, for example, put additional strain on the kidneys which can lead to kidney failure. Whether someone experiences heart attacks, bone fractures, kidney disease or certain cancers, or dementia, the rates of these conditions in HIV-positive people are significant. Research is still determining how much HIV contributes to these conditions and how much is explainable by other factors (such as smoking, or HIV drugs and coinfection with other viruses).
Living with HIV presents certain challenges, no matter what your age. But older people with HIV may face different issues than their younger counterparts, including greater social isolation and loneliness. Stigma is also a particular concern among older people with HIV. Stigma negatively affects people’s quality of life, self-image, and behaviors, and may prevent them from disclosing their HIV status or seeking HIV care.
It is important for older people with HIV to get linked to HIV care for regular tests, and have access to mental health and other support services to help them stay healthy and remain engaged in HIV care. In some cases, medication for another condition can interact with HIV drugs, making one or both of them less effective, so it’s important that if you are aging with HIV, you let your healthcare providers know about the drugs you are taking, including any herbal remedies and alternative treatments. It’s important to get support when you need it and to do it sooner rather than later as stress can lead to age-related cognitive and physical health issues.
Face to Face can be a resource for you if you are aging with HIV. Call our offices at 707.541.1581 or come in Tuesday-Friday, 9:00-4:30.
Face to Face
873 Second Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
9 AM - 4:30 PM
Rapid HIV Testing
Tuesday to Friday
9:00 A.M. to 4:00 PM