September 19, 2012
It's amazing to realize that we're just a stone's throw from an era when being HIV positive at any age usually meant you should start getting your affairs in order. Just 15 years ago in the U.S., the idea of seeing age 50 was a distant dream for many people with HIV (maybe including yourself).
Today, living out a full, long life with HIV is not only common; it's expected, provided you're able to access modern HIV treatment and quality health care.
The numbers drive home that reality: In 2001, about 17 percent of all people living with HIV in the U.S. were over the age of 49. By 2005 -- less than a decade after the "modern" era of combination HIV treatment began -- that proportion had increased to 24 percent. By 2015, experts predict that more than half of all HIVers in the U.S. will be 50 or older.
Aging with HIV? It's the new normal.
And yet, over the past few years, we have only begun to truly grasp exactly what it means to be getting older while living with HIV. Normal though it may be, we're still figuring out exactly how to prevent or combat the harmful ways in which aging and HIV intersect -- not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
We've come to learn, for instance, that the natural effects of aging appear to conspire with the long-term effects of HIV, as well as the medications we take to treat it, to slowly chip away at our strength, our wellness, our mobility and our independence. The exact nature of these long-term effects is still being determined, though in many cases they appear to be not as severe as researchers had initially thought.
Meanwhile, HIV is often not the only health problem we have to deal with as we get older. Diabetes, cancer, heart disease, bone problems -- all of these issues become more common as we age, regardless of HIV. Managing your health often becomes more challenging and takes up more of your time.
Although many of the health issues associated with aging don't have anything to do with HIV, dealing with HIV and its treatment can still complicate these problems. There's still a tremendous amount we simply don't know about how HIV and HIV meds affect people as they get older, or how they interact with other conditions or diseases we may develop.
Then, of course, there's the emotional side of the coin: Whether you're a long-term survivor or you're newly diagnosed, dealing with HIV on top of your other health and life issues can easily start to feel overwhelming. And that's to say nothing about the tremendous stigma and ignorance about HIV/AIDS that remains common throughout the U.S., particularly when it comes to the idea of "older people" living with the virus.
Which is exactly why we've created our Resource Center on Aging & HIV. Within these virtual pages, we share with you a huge range of information, support, personal stories, research and advice that will help you stay connected and in charge of your well-being. Whether you were diagnosed in 1982 or 2012, this center is designed to provide you with the resources you need if you're 50 or older and HIV positive.
This resource center is designed to answer any question you may have about aging and HIV, such as:
We also have a host of overviews and articles on issues relevant to people 50 or over who are living with HIV, including the following topics:
These resources are just the tip of the iceberg. Settle in, stay a while and browse everything our Resource Center on Aging & HIV has to offer. And please add your own voice to the discussion -- there's always more to learn, more to teach and more to share. This is just the beginning.
Myles Helfand is the editorial director of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Myles on Twitter: @MylesatTheBody.
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