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HIV and Aging


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In the beginning, when I spoke to my friends and family about what I was feeling physically and emotionally, their reactions often began with words like "You should ..." or "If I were you ..." Inside I was thinking: "How clueless!" How could they truly feel what I was feeling? I knew their intention was to reassure and encourage me, but how could anyone who isn't infected truly understand what it is like to live with HIV? ...

My participation in support groups taught me the importance of listening to people with HIV, including those with points of view different from my own. I discovered how important it was to pay attention to experiences that I had not lived myself, as well as the stages of denial and acceptance that varied from one person to the next.

-- Albert



Depression is quite common in people with HIV of all ages. Finding out you have HIV can take a toll on your mental health and sense of well-being. This may be compounded by the social isolation, stigma, health conditions and financial difficulties that some people experience as a result of aging or of living with HIV.

If you feel depressed -- have trouble sleeping and feel unexplainably fatigued, sad or hopeless -- talk to your doctor. Some of these problems may be caused by anti-HIV drugs or other medications, such as those used to treat hepatitis C. Feelings of depression can also be connected to physical causes that can be treated, such as low levels of iron (anemia), testosterone, vitamin B12 or thyroid hormone (especially in women); and hormonal changes in women due to pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), pregnancy or menopause.

Getting Help

No one should face emotional problems alone. There is help available. If you are feeling depressed, it's important to see your family doctor or your HIV specialist and get treatment and support. Many doctors do counselling themselves, and many HIV specialists work with social workers or counsellors available to people with HIV who have emotional problems.

There are different kinds of counselling and psychotherapy available. Some of these are one-on-one (where it is just you and a therapist) and some are done in groups (where you and other people are seen together by a therapist). Sometimes counselling or psychotherapy is provided in a private office, and other times in a clinic, hospital or AIDS service organization. The setting and type of service you receive will depend on the problem you need help with and which services are available in your community.

To find out about counselling services, support groups, and housing, income and other supports in your area, contact your local AIDS service organization. You can also call CATIE toll-free, at 1-800-263-1638, or visit to find out about support services and AIDS service organizations near you.

Sexual Health

Sexual Health

It is possible to have a healthy and satisfying sex life when you are HIV-positive and when you are aging. A healthy sex life can reduce stress, express intimacy and simply feel good.

Sexual problems and low libido (low sex drive) can occur in men and women, especially as we get older. This can be a sensitive issue that gets swept under the rug and ignored. A low sex drive can be the result of HIV, the side effects of drugs, hormone imbalances (including low testosterone in women and men), heart disease, diabetes, stress or depression. It's important to talk to your doctor about sexual problems you may be having because, chances are, something can be done about them.

It is also important that you take steps to prevent getting or passing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). People with HIV are at greater risk of acquiring STIs and, if you get one, the symptoms may be more severe. If you are sexually active, you may want to get tested regularly for STIs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Using condoms greatly reduces the risk of passing HIV to your partner(s), and will also protect you from sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Keep in mind, though, that condoms will not protect you from all STIs. Take steps to protect yourself and your sex partner(s).

You can have HIV and have a healthy and satisfying sex life.

In a way, it can be a relief to find out that you really do have a problem and it isn't all in your imagination.

-- Dr. Sean Rourke, neuropsychologist

Cognitive Changes

Over time, some people living with HIV find they have trouble focusing, remembering things and processing information. These are called cognitive changes. If you are living with HIV, you may have noticed some cognitive changes. They may be mild or they may interfere with your activities and your ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

Many people living with HIV experience such problems. At the same time, many people have lived with HIV for decades and experience no cognitive problems at all.

If you suspect that you may have a problem with your cognition -- for example, problems with your memory, perception, reasoning or judgement -- see your doctor. He or she may do some tests to figure out what the problem is. In addition to medical treatments, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as changes to your diet, vitamin supplements, physical exercise and exercises for your "brain health." Your doctor can also refer you to an occupational therapist -- someone who can suggest strategies you can use to get around these problems.

Dementia is a brain disorder that can affect your memory and ability to think clearly. It can have a serious impact on your daily activities, quality of life and even your ability to live independently. Fortunately, the rate of HIV-associated dementia has greatly declined since more effective anti-HIV drugs became available in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, as you age, you may be at risk of developing dementia. It's important to speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you become aware of early signs of dementia, such as difficulty remembering, concentrating or completing basic tasks.

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This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
More on Aging & HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Paul G (Quadra Island, BC) Tue., May. 12, 2015 at 10:06 pm UTC
CATIE provides excellent resource materials, BUT this five year-old publication continues to misrepresent the prevalence of HIV among persons who are 50+. Canada has no prevalence data by age. The 12% number indicated in the article is likely the share of 50+ persons using incidence data. In British Columbia, the median age of HIV+ persons on HAART is slightly less than 50 years of age.
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Comment by: Tammy Bettelli (Marlboro.NJ) Tue., Jul. 8, 2014 at 6:20 am UTC
I work for an exclusive Assissted Living community and one of our residents has HIV..I would like to have a resource come in and to our care managers..can you please recommend someone?
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