Getting older with HIV
Every day, the number of older people living with HIV in the country and in the world increases. One reason is because treatments have improved and are helping people with the disease live longer. In the United States, almost half of the people with HIV are 50 years of age or older, many of whom were diagnosed with the virus when they were younger.
Yet thousands of older people get HIV each year, and most are less likely to be tested than younger people, so they may not know they have HIV. The signs of HIV / AIDS can be confused with the aches and pains of the aging process.
Some older people may feel embarrassed or fearful about getting tested. Also, some doctors don’t always think about testing older people for HIV.
This can lead to so-called “late diagnoses”, that is, when the virus has not been diagnosed for months or even years. This delays the start of treatments, which can cause not only the aggravation of the effects of the virus on the body itself, but also increases the probability of transmission.
Today, some HIV patients are over 60 or 70 years old. However, most of them face pathologies associated with aging, and suffer them many years earlier than the general population. Some of the health problems of older people seem to happen earlier and faster in people living with HIV, this can be called “accelerated aging”.
Studies and research still don’t show for sure why this happens. It may be that having the virus in the body leads to many of the chronic medical conditions associated with aging. HIV lowers the immune system’s ability to fight infection; This is often referred to as having a suppressed immune system.
Another factor is toxicity: patients, especially those who were diagnosed and treated decades ago, have suffered the adverse effects of the first drugs, of those cocktails that, at the time, saved their lives, but that, like any other another drug, they left sequelae in his health.
Likewise, in many of the patients the disease has gone hand in hand with a greater consumption of toxic substances (drugs, alcohol, tobacco), and in some, in addition, to the presence in their body of another class of virus, such as that of hepatitis C.
This is how the so-called frailty syndrome is promoted, which consists of an early depletion of the physiological systems associated with aging and a loss of function.
It is time for health systems to be prepared to serve patients with dignity, it is time to create plans based on their needs and to help counteract their ailments. Doctors and healthcare providers must be aware of these problems and take appropriate measures to keep them as healthy as possible and ensure a full old age.
National Institute on Aging:
The Well Project :
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.