amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Getting Older With HIV

September 18 Is National HIV and Aging Awareness Day

At over 30 years old, the AIDS epidemic is presenting new challenges for science.  With the aging of the epidemic comes the aging of many of those who were infected early on and survived.  September 18 marks the 5th annual National HIV and Aging Awareness Day, which is aimed at focusing attention on issues surrounding HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment among the aging population, and on the need for research on HIV and aging.

Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has been so effective in treating HIV/AIDS since it became available in 1996 that many of those who became infected relatively early in the epidemic are now in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than half of the people living with HIV in the U.S. will be over the age of 50 by 2015. 

 “I’m 52 years old and my parents are in their 70s, but when we talk it’s like I’m in my 70s with them,” said an HIV-positive man in New York in an interview for the Research on Older Adults with HIV study (ROAH).  He takes medication for HIV, depression, kidney cancer, high blood pressure, and lipodystrophy—ailments usually associated with geriatric patients.  The ROAH study found that on average participants were managing three other illnesses along with HIV.  The problem is compounded by the stigma that continues to attach to HIV, especially among the older generation, and the fact that doctors are less likely to raise the subject of HIV prevention and treatment with their older patients.

495 Getting Older 

What is causing chronic diseases to show up sooner in HIV positive patients?  Scientists are finding that a constant inflammatory immune response (also referred to as a chronically high-alert immune system), caused by long-term exposure to HIV is causing what is termed accelerated aging. 

Inflammation is known to be an underlying contributor to nearly every chronic disease, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, so chronic inflammation puts a person at a greater risk for any of these diseases.  However, lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, and recreational drug use are also risk factors for many chronic diseases, and working to make healthier lifestyle choices is one way for people who are HIV positive to prevent chronic disease. Getting involved with a support group is another way to improve personal well-being and health, and can be especially helpful for older people. 

For more information and to see how you can get involved and make a difference, go to the AIDS Institute’s National HIV and Aging Awareness Day website.