As Old As You Feel, Aging With HIV
November 9, 2016
For many of us, learning to incorporate living with HIV/AIDS and adhering to a daily routine of taking meds to treat the condition, along with dealing with possible side-effects of those meds, are just normal parts of everyday life. As a long-term survivor of 25 years, I am faced with not only keeping the virus in check, but also dealing with cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, triglyceride issues and now lipodystrophy and stage 3 chronic kidney disease. This is all due in part to HIV/AIDS, the meds used to treat it, aging (I will turn 55 on Feb. 2) or a combination of these things.
Living and aging with HIV/AIDS is a more complicated situation these days, for me and possibly for other long-term survivors. I hear of others who have been infected for a number of years, like myself, who face the challenges of additional health issues. I am currently followed not only by my infectious disease specialist, but also a nephrologist, cardiologist, dermatologist, gastroenterologist and a general internist, who all cover the many effects that HIV/AIDS and aging have on my body. It appears that perhaps having HIV/AIDS causes the body to age faster; therefore, we who are infected are more prone to conditions that were once thought to be things faced by much older individuals well into their 70s and 80s.
For me, at least, taking the medicines to treat HIV/AIDS has worked for a number of years; however, it was not anticipated or of concern that they would possibly cause the issues I am now dealing with regarding my overall health. Nevertheless, I feel that, had it not been for these medicines, I and others like me would not have survived as long as we have. So, that has been a part of the "trade off" in managing HIV/AIDS.
When I go into my community to speak and educate about life with HIV/AIDS, I not only talk about just HIV, but also have begun to share some of the other health-related issues I face and make it a point to inform people that, even though the treatments for HIV/AIDS work for me, my health has become a complex condition that requires the expertise of specialists in other fields of health care. It requires knowledge about the effects of HIV/AIDS and how it affects me overall, and all involved in my health care must be able to recognize these effects and share information among themselves.
Many young people I talk to about HIV/AIDS today feel, and have even stated, that if they become infected, all they'd have to do is take a pill or two and all would be fine. What they do not consider is how, or if, they might be able to tolerate the meds or other health issues that may arise as they age. They are often surprised when I inform them of the other issues I deal with in addition to, or possibly related to, HIV infection. I do not consider age 55 as being old. However, having lived with HIV/AIDS now for over 25 years and trying to manage all the related issues surrounding it, there are times when I feel VERY old. It takes a great deal of one's efforts to incorporate all the things needed to maintain better health, not to mention taking meds for not only HIV/AIDS, but also cholesterol, blood pressure, restless leg syndrome/neuropathy and kidney disease, as well as starting daily injections of Egrifta for lipodystrophy, which is an HIV-related condition. The list seems to be an ever-growing one. But again, I know I am a blessed man to still be here after all these years.
Treating and controlling HIV/AIDS has come a long way since the days of AZT [Retrovir, zidovudine] -- the only available treatment option -- which I began on Christmas Eve, 1991. It is just a very complex condition, and not all of us who are infected are the once-a-day pill kind of people who are sometimes shown in magazines or in the news. I am a 13-pills-a-day person (this includes two for HIV), but for now at least, that is what it takes for my life to be as normal as it is. For those who can maintain the one-a-day, I say great! For those of us who cannot, let me say it can be very discouraging at times.
Perhaps you are thinking I am ungrateful in that there have been those who did not get the opportunity to become older as I and so many others have because their lives ended before all the treatment options came along. I am not ungrateful at all. Rather, I am offering a glimpse to those who may be much younger than me, or who may not be infected, and painting them a picture of life with HIV as I age and some of the things I experience.
As one who lives openly with my positive status, I continue to try and give an accurate account of my experience with HIV/AIDS so that others might come away with a better understanding or some helpful information to use in their own lives. The journey of life with HIV/AIDS does not come with instructions, but luckily, and hopefully, there are those out there who continue to research so that better and more effective options become available until a cure is found.
A native Tennessean, Harold R. "Scottie" Scott grew up on the family farm some 85 miles east of Nashville in a county with a population of less than 10,000. He tested positive for HIV on October 24, 1991, and went public with his status on World AIDS Day 1994, becoming a speaker and educator living openly with HIV. He has been on various committees and discussion panels representing the HIV/AIDS rural population, including service as co-chair of the Upper Cumberland Regional Ryan White HIV/AIDS Education and Awareness Committee. He currently resides with his same sex partner 30 miles east of Nashville, where he volunteers at the local hospital while continuing to share his story and do what he can to educate others.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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