It’s great news that more people living with HIV are living longer lives!
Those who are diagnosed soon after infection and can obtain and continue medication with a suppressed viral load can live just as long as their HIV negative counterparts. Between a quarter and half of all people living with HIV in the United States are now 50 years old or older.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, certain cancers, HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND), and liver disease (including hepatitis B and hepatitis C) are more common for those that have been living with HIV for a long time.
Not only HIV treatment but also HIV itself can also have a large impact on the brain. Researchers estimate that more than 50 percent of people living with HIV have HAND, which can manifest as shortfalls in attention, language, motor skills, memory, and other cognitive functions that can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. Additionally, HIV can cause chronic inflammation throughout the body which is associated with many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, lymphoma, and type 2 diabetes.
As people age with HIV, they may also experience depression. This may come from years of feeling HIV related stigma as well as real or perceived rejection from potential sex and romantic partners, family members, friends, and co-workers. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or symptoms of PTSD can come from living through a time when friends and family did not survive AIDS related complications. Seeing so many people, often-entire friend groups, get sick and die can have a severe impact that lasts and can get worse without the support of a mental health support.
There are now more medical and mental health support services than ever before and all of these issues can be managed on some level. Clearly, for any of the medical issues, discuss any concerning symptoms with a doctor. For mental health, find a therapist that has a background in or specializes in HIV issues. An overlooked mental health resource is the support group. This type of group allows people living with HIV to have a community where they can feel relaxed and discuss issues that are common to the group members. These groups can help when a person is feeling like they are the only one experiencing issues with HIV and aging. Chances are, they are not the only ones and, in fact, there is a growing community of people aging with HIV with whom they can share their experiences.
Last modified: October 16, 2017