“Nobody asked me when I was 20 what I wanted to be or what kind of life I wanted to have when I was 60, because I wasn’t expected to live,” says HIV attorney Vince Crisostomo.
Crisostomo, now in his 60s, discovered he had HIV in 1989, two years after being infected. “People associate a lot of loss with HIV and AIDS, especially my generation,” he says. “I was lucky.”
In the 1980s and early 1990s, many people living with HIV lived only one to two years after their diagnosis. But with new treatment and a better understanding of the virus, many people, like Crisostomo, are living long, healthy lives. Today, almost half of the people living with HIV in the United States are over 50 years old.
Medication for HIV has come a long way since the FDA first approved the use of antiretroviral therapies (ART) for this virus. The treatment included many pills, problematic dosage, food and Drugs interactionsand other severe symptoms.
“At first, we were switching drugs because of side effects,” says Janessa Broussard, vice president of medical affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “But we’ve reached a point where we have officers who don’t have issues that would concern me about switching my patient to another option. The decisions we make these days depend on an individual’s preferences.
HIV treatment can still have side effects, but modern ART is much easier to manage. Successful treatment routines have allowed the life expectancy of people living with HIV to be comparable to that of people without HIV.
“Before we had adequate therapy, HIV was, as they say, a death sentence,” says Broussard. This has changed. “It’s a completely different conversation I have with my patients, which is wonderful. I can honestly say it won’t really affect your lifespan. You can still live a long, happy, healthy life. . “
As people are living longer with HIV, age-related health issues have become a new challenge. Although HIV treatment reduces the risk of AIDS-defining diseases, some conditions unrelated to AIDS are more common in aging people with HIV. Some of them include:
People living with HIV may also notice these conditions earlier in the aging process than their HIV-free peers. Researchers don’t know exactly why this happens, but think it has to do with changes in the immune system causing age-related complications to begin earlier.
Aging and HIV are also both linked to inflammationwhich could lead to many health problems.
In addition, long-term ART could lead to complications such as osteoporosis, higher risk of broken bonesrenal and Metabolic disordersliver disease, cardiovascular disease and central nervous system troubles. But experts are struggling to say whether ART directly causes these conditions, or whether they are due to a combination of long-term ART and other factors.
A person’s genetics, lifestyle, time from infection to start of ART and other medical barriers could also impact their risk of age-related problems.
“As you age, many people develop chronic conditions that require medications that also have side effects,” says Broussard. “It is difficult to say directly that long-term antiretrovirals cause a certain condition. They may have contributed to the development of certain conditions. But if you look at a risk/benefit perspective, antiretrovirals – even with the effects – are significantly better than the effect that HIV has on the body when not controlled by therapy.
It is important to start ART as soon as possible, even if you are diagnosed later in life. In addition, there are many things you can do to live a long and healthy life with HIV:
Find a doctor who meets your needs. Your healthcare professional should understand the needs of a person aging with HIV. Your physical, mental and emotional needs may be different from those of other people. It is important that your doctor understands these potential differences and is trained to provide the care you deserve.
See your doctor regularly. Ask your doctor how often you should have a routine checkup. They should test your urine And blood to see if anything has changed or if you have an undetected viral load, which means the virus is not impacting your body as much. As with any other condition, it’s a good idea to monitor your condition and let your doctor know if you notice any changes.
Make healthy lifestyle choices. You can reduce your risk of contracting age-related diseases by smokinglimiting alcohol use and avoid recreational drugs.
Eat well and exercise. keep one healthy weight can also help you avoid health complications. Eat balanced meals and exercise often to maintain aptitude. Lifting weights can also help keep your bones strong, which helps fight the side effects of osteoporosis.
Seek social support. Support groups and communities can help you discuss your experiences and connect with others who are aging with HIV. You can find groups that meet online or in person. Also, talking to your loved ones can help you express your feelings and allow them to understand your point of view.
Maintain Mental Health. Your Mental Health needs change with age. It is important that you focus on your mental well-being, in addition to your physical health. Older people living with HIV are at higher risk of Mental Health health problems and social isolation than HIV-negative people of the same age. This is due to stigma, the loss of friends and loved ones, and the normal side effects of HIV, ART, and the aging process.
These days, Crisostomo is working on his mindset. “I’ve never planned a trip in my adult life a year in advance. I never had any goals, except to just get through the day or the month. I’m trying to change that,” he says.
Like him, more and more people are aging with HIV and are exploring a chapter in their lives they thought would never come. “People can have relationships, to be loved, to have children who are biologically related to them,” says Broussard. “It’s a stark contrast to the lives people living with HIV lived in the 80s and 90s.”