January 29, 2010
Of the 250 HIV patients seen by Cape Cod Healthcare's Infectious Disease Clinical Services unit, approximately a dozen are age 70 or older, said Medical Director Alan Sugar. Most of these clients have been living with the disease for many years and face unique challenges as a result.
"If you were infected years and years ago, and now you're in your 60s and 70s, obviously you have some kind of genetics on your side," said Sugar. "They've [also] had a lifetime accumulating what the usual illnesses are. We have to deal with chronic medical problems, like hypertension or family history for stroke. They may have had those things. So they may not be as healthy to start with."
Laura Thornton, the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod's executive director, said roughly 42 of its 453 clients are elderly, 38 in their 60s, three in their 70s, and one in his/her 80s. The majority have been HIV-positive for at least 25 years, she said. ASG, which opened in 1983 in Provincetown, is one the country's oldest HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Once ASG clients reach 65, they typically need much more help from caseworkers in filling out the paperwork required for Medicare coverage, especially with respect to ensuring they get the medicines they need, said Thornton. Older patients are often more skeptical of drug treatments, having experienced the overpowering strength and side effects of earlier AIDS drugs, she noted.
Clients also must deal with intangibles such as self-image or "survivor guilt," the result of witnessing the deaths of so many friends, Thornton said.