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5 Top Worries of People With HIV Over 50: The View From Scotland

August 26, 2015

More effective HIV treatment has drastically increased the lifespans of people who are HIV positive, and a growing number of people living with HIV are now over age 50. Although the process of aging often results in new health and economic issues, people aging with HIV are confronting both unique concerns and common problems that many never anticipated living long enough to experience. Understanding and addressing issues specific to the older HIV-positive community is becoming increasingly important.

In Scotland, the annual Positive Persons' Forum provides an opportunity for the 32% of HIV-positive people in the nation who are over 50 to share their experiences, worries and priorities about being cared for properly as they grow older. Views expressed at the conference are incorporated into a manifesto for decision makers and service providers, including those seeking to better understand the aging population's concerns, and in turn, to provide support for this community's growing needs.

Through the Forum and other initiatives, five primary concerns of Scots aging with HIV have been identified. One concern is that a positive status will remain confidential in old age. Some wonder whether their privacy will be respected, or if caretakers will share their status without their consent.

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Another concern is the long-term effect of HIV medication. People wonder how 20-plus years of HIV treatment will impact their health. Many are concerned about financial stability, as some people were not anticipating living long enough to need long-term financial plans, such as pensions. There is also worry about drug-drug interactions between HIV medication and medication needed for older-onset diseases such as Parkinson's and heart disease.

Lastly, some people said they feared their potential need to rely on caretakers who may be prejudiced against them because of their HIV status. #AgeingwithHIV, started by the Positive Persons Forum to raise awareness about Scotland's aging HIV community, highlights an example of how HIV stigma can impact living in a care facility. It quotes a patient saying, "[T]he care home staff told other residents that they shouldn't go into my room because I had HIV."

The problems of aging with HIV are now a concern worldwide. As in Scotland, the community of people living longer with HIV in the U.S. is increasing.

In 2013, it was reported that half of patients diagnosed with AIDS in San Francisco were over the age of 50, making it the first local U.S. jurisdiction to reach this milestone. On a national level, the CDC reported that, as of 2011, people aged 55 and older made up 26% of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States.

At the same time, the average life expectancy of HIV-positive people in the U.S. and Canada has increased by 15 years to 71.4 as of 2006-2007. According to the CDC, overall life expectancy in the U.S. was 77.9 years in 2007, making the life span for those infected with HIV now almost normal.

As the number of HIV-positive seniors rapidly increases in the U.S. and elsewhere, the aging concerns expressed in Scotland are likely to take on greater urgency for everyone in the HIV community.

To learn more about the viewpoints of people living or aging with HIV in Scotland, as well as Scottish health and social policy head to HIVScotland.com.

Lauren Varga is a freelance journalist, reporting on healthcare and policy with a focus in reproductive and sexual health. She also works as a photographer and videographer. For more of her work or to get in touch, head here.


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