Living with HIV and ageing

Written by Tom

It’s no secret that we’re all getting older. Until someone invents time travel or finds the fountain of eternal youth, it’s something that we’ve all got to deal with.

However, for people living with HIV, people like you and me, the path is a little more unclear.

We’re approaching forty years since the first known cases of HIV, a time in which life the expectancy of a person diagnosed with HIV was just months.1 Thankfully, nowadays, as long as people are diagnosed in good time, have access to medical care, and are able to stick to their HIV treatment, life expectancy of a person living with HIV is similar to an HIV-negative person.2 That means we’re seeing the first generation of people living with HIV entering later life and accessing later life care.3  

Over the past couple of decades, the services offered to people living with HIV have gradually become fragmented – including poor coordination between HIV clinics and general practitioners (GPs).4

Supporting our older generation

Gone are they days where HIV clinics were ‘one stop shops’ offering everything from your standard HIV monitoring to eye tests and complementary therapies. Now people living with HIV are expected to access the majority of their HIV-related care via their GP.5,6

This new arrangement might be fine for those diagnosed today, although even then I’d argue otherwise, but it’s actively failing those who are entering later life right now – and especially those diagnosed at the start of the HIV crisis.

As we all get older, regardless of HIV status, our health becomes more complicated. As people living with HIV, we’re subject to the same age-related conditions that can affect anyone else: heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes – the list goes on. That’s before we consider that people living with HIV are also more likely to develop certain cancers and health conditions.2,7

Co-ordinating care, managing benefits and balancing the medications for these conditions alongside your existing HIV treatment is an essential factor in maintaining a high quality of life as we age.8

Lifestyle tips for living with HIV

Build relationships  Develop a good working relationship with both your HIV clinic and your GP. By linking them in with each other, it means they are able to provide better and safer care.

Do your research  Know what medications you’re on and be prepared to check anything you’re prescribed for interactions using tools such as the Liverpool University HIV iChart app and website.9

Be proactive  Stay interested and involved in your care. Research shows that patients who are involved and engaged in decisions about their care and treatment have better outcomes.10,11

Tell your nearest and dearest  Speak to friends and family. Let them know your wishes for care and support should you not be able to speak for yourself.

Make changes now  The best thing any of us can do to ensure a long, healthy and happy life is to make healthy choices:

  • Exercise regularly.2 You don’t need to run a marathon, but maybe take the dog for an extra walk.
  • Stop smoking.2 Stopping smoking will reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer.7
  • Eat a balanced diet.2 Eating healthy can be expensive, and I’m not suggesting you move entirely to an organic quinoa-based diet. Try changing one food item or meal to a healthier choice each week or month.
  • Cut down on excess alcohol.2 We all know the dangers of alcohol, and studies show that people living with HIV are more likely to misuse alcohol.12 Your clinic or GP can help you come up with a plan to reduce your intake.
  • Socialise.2 This isn’t a commonly thought of one, but we know people who stay mentally and socially active have lower risks of conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.13 It also helps combat isolation and other mental health conditions.14

We can’t escape ageing, and we might not be able to change the healthcare system, but we can all make changes to help ourselves and prepare for the future.

Want to know more about living with HIV? Discover our HIV and diet guide for some useful lifestyle tips.

  1. A timeline of HIV/AIDS. Available at:  https://www.hiv.gov/sites/default/files/aidsgov-timeline.pdf. [Accessed: August 2020].
  2. Life expectancy for people with HIV. Available at: https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/life-expectancy-people-living-hiv [Accessed August 2020].
  3. HIV/AIDS in Later Life. Available at: https://oxfordre.com/psychology/
    view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/
    acrefore-9780190236557-e-430?rskey=KlnJN6
    [Accessed August 2020].
  4. HIV and Integrated Care – can STPs deliver? Available at: https://www.nat.org.uk/sites/default/files/
    publications/NAT_HIV_and_Integrated_Care.pdf
    [Accessed August 2020].
  5. The King’s Fund. The future of HIV services in England. Shaping the response to changing needs 2017. Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/
    sites/default/files/field/field_publication_file/Future_HIV_services_England_
    Kings_Fund_April_2017.pdf
    . [Accessed August 2020].
  6. HIV in the future NHS. Available at: https://www.nat.org.uk/sites/default/files/HIV_futureNHS_Dec16.pdf [Accessed August 2020].
  7. Living with HIV and AIDS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/living-with/ [Accessed May 2020]. 
  8. Althoff K, et al. Curr Opin HIV AIDS. 2016;11: 527–536.
  9. Drug Interaction Checker Lite. Available at: https://www.hiv-druginteractions.org/checker [Accessed August 2020].
  10. Koester K, et al. PLoS ONE. 2019;14:e0214636.
  11. Farrell L, et al. Med Encount. 2009;23:69–71.
  12. Essa M, et al. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis. 2019;9:1–3.
  13. Prevention – Alzheimer's disease. 2018. Available at:
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alzheimers-disease/prevention/ [Accessed May 2020]. 
  14. Holt-Lunstad J, et al. Am Psychol. 2017;72: 517–530.
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