Individuals who have HIV are living longer. Part of that is because of better treatments; but the number of new infections among older individuals is also a factor.
People aged 50 and over account for about 45 percent of Americans living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Older Americans are more likely to receive a diagnosis of HIV infection later in the course of their disease, meaning they get a late start to treatment and possibly resulting in more damage to their immune system. This can lead to poorer prognoses and shorter survival after an HIV diagnosis.
While advances in medication and science, along with better and more complete care, have led to extended life expectancy and improved quality of life for the aging HIV-positive population, there are challenges. HIV-positive individuals still contend with typical diseases associated with living longer, such as arthritis, heart disease and dementia. In addition, the indefinite consumption of medication has been shown to affect the body as the patient ages, in some cases leading to advanced heart disease, poor liver functioning and more.
Hope Health Aiken offers five tips for living and aging well with HIV.
1. Get HIV Care.
People living with HIV should have both a primary care doctor and an HIV-specific doctor. Both physicians are integral in providing proper and complete care and managing HIV and any age-related illnesses or changes in health. Taking medication and maintaining regular contact with the doctors is foremost in aging well while living with HIV.
2. Eat Well.
Proper nutrition can help support health even as the body fights the HIV infection. Decreasing or eliminating habits such as drinking and smoking are especially recommended for those with HIV because those behaviors can compound the effect of reducing the body’s immunity.
3. Be Physically Active.
Physical activity can improve joint and muscle function, strengthen heart health, decrease weight and control diseases such as diabetes.
4. Be Socially Active.
Develop a social support system by engaging in activities that support positive social interaction. For example, join a gym, travel, attend local events and/or take community classes such as cake decorating at arts and crafts centers or stores. Developing social connections and a network of friends and family serves as a safety net for individuals as they age, particularly those aging and living with HIV.
5. Link to Support Services
Older individuals living with HIV may face different issues than their younger counterparts, including greater social isolation, loneliness and stigma that could negatively affect their quality of life, self-image and behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends diagnosed seniors link to specialized care and get access to mental health and other support services through local health care providers, community centers and HIV service organizations like HopeHealth.
HopeHealth in Aiken – one of five HopeHealth locations featuring a Disease Treatment & Prevention Center– offers a variety of supportive services for individuals, families and communities affected by HIV and/or hepatitis C, including medical care and treatment, behavioral health counseling, peer support groups and testing and referral services. About 15 percent of the HIV-positive patients it serves fall in the “aging” category.
For HIV, hepatitis C or STD testing or information, visit HopeHealth Aiken at 150 University Parkway, call 803-643-1977 or connect at hope-health.org.