THE SENIOR CORNER - JIM MEADOWS 2/15/2018
For this month’s Senior Corner, I’d like to share some information about HIV and Aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people aged 50 and older account for about 45% of Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV. Almost half (49%) of new HIV diagnoses are among men who have sex with men (MSM). 38% of new HIV infections are contracted by heterosexual sex, and the rest are contracted by individuals who share needles for intravenous drug use.
One of the most troubling facts about HIV and aging is that older people are more likely to be diagnosed later in the course of their illness. For newly-diagnosed Americans aged 55 and older, 40% have late stage infection (AIDS) by the time they are diagnosed. It may be that some providers are assuming that older people are somehow at a decreased risk for HIV infection, but this is clearly a mistake. All at-risk adults (MSM, transgender women, IV drug users, and those who may have had unprotected sex) should be screened for HIV regularly. They should also talk to their healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
PrEP consists of regularly taking the fixed-dose combination of two antiretroviral medications, tenofovir and emtricitabine (sold under the brand name, Truvada). When taken as directed, PReP is over 90% effective at avoiding HIV infection. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an emergency treatment for people who believe they may have been exposed to HIV. It is important that PEP treatment be started within 72 hours of exposure. If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, and you have not been taking PrEP, go to your nearest emergency room. If you are interested in starting PrEP to avoid HIV, click here to find your nearest PrEP clinic.
What about older adults who have been living with HIV for a while? The good news is that people who receive highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) are living much longer and fuller lives than in the early days of the epidemic. Many people are now in their third or even fourth decade of living with HIV. But they are also beginning to get the typical diseases associated with aging, like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. They are also being affected by these conditions at higher rates and at younger ages than usual.
It is especially important for people who are aging with HIV to prioritize self-care. That includes following their healthcare provider’s advice on the treatment and management of their HIV and other illnesses, getting adequate exercise, eating healthfully, and avoiding alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. It’s also very important to stay connected to social supports and avoid isolation. For more on that, please check out my article from last month.