The face of HIV/AIDS is changing. It is no longer a young person’s disease. For example, the percent of people with AIDS over the age of 50 is now more than twice that of people under age 24.
For a number of years, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), has been helping older adults living with HIV/AIDS to age successfully. Doing so requires battling several problematic barriers to healthy living.
One critical piece is being sure that adequate social supports are in place. Especially for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, to whom SAGE’s services are targeted, social isolation can be a huge hurdle. One study found that 80% of HIV-positive people who were LGBT lived alone, as opposed to 67% of heterosexual people.
Indeed, it is especially important for providers in the aging services network to encourage and support the role of family, friends and other families of choice, when there may be increased isolation due to the perceived stigma of HIV and sexual orientation and/or gender identity. There are a number of older people who alienate themselves intentionally from others, to avoid discrimination and shame.
Recognizing the contributing factors that can work against healthy aging, there are several ways that caregivers, including service providers, can help enhance the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. At the most basic level, caregivers should encourage clients to uphold an optimistic attitude.Research suggests that individuals who maintain positive attitudes are more likely to adhere to their treatment regimen, keep medical appointments, maintain personal relationships, and report a higher quality of life.
Further many community organizations are recognizing the importance of providing HIV support groups and social activities. If you are in a position to do so, starting such a group or offering case management, benefits counseling and mixers for older adults living with HIV/AIDS are excellent services.
On a more general level, health service providers should take care to require HIV testing of all patients and clients, regardless of age. Early detection greatly increases the chances that someone will live longer and more comfortably when properly treated.
Those living with HIV/AIDS are increasingly living longer, healthier and happier lives than ever before. It is important to help care recipients to recognize and then overcome the challenges so that they can continue to age successfully.
Hilary Meyer is the Director of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, the country's only resource center focused on improving the quality of services and supports offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults nationwide.