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HIV and Aging: am I ready for it – and is the healthcare system ready for me?

Friday, 29 April 2011 Categories // Health, Wayne Bristow

Fifty-something Wayne Bristow and a personal look at what aging with HIV really means..

The toipc of HIV and aging keeps coming up more often as the HIV community gets older and lives longer. I am now one of the over-50 crowd that should take note of the fact we are going to live to a ripe old age. Now, everytime I hear something about HIV and aging, I pay attention.

In workshops I've attended I've met people who have lived 25 to 30 years with HIV/AIDS. They tell stories of how they were told to put their affairs in order, they would die within months, maybe a year. There were times when they were so sick, practically on death's door, only to bounce back and continue the fight. Many would get very emotional talking about watching their friends get sicker and pass. Some of them have lost more than a hundred friends and acquaintances over the years. Quite often I heard, "why am I still here"?

Last month our agency held a workshop on HIV and aging that looked at starting over. The subject matter dealt with financial and career planning, retirement, your Living Will, finding a Power of Attorney, relationships and living arrangements. When, back then, people were told they were going to die, many sold off their homes and property and used the money to really live before they died. Now, decades later, some have returned to the work force and others are finding they have time to learn new skills and go back to work.


Something I would like to see more information on are the health issues attributed to HIV and aging. There may have been other articles on this subject but the one that stood out for me was by Susan Pigg of the Toronto Star (link) and her article titled "When HIV moves into nursing homes." 

Toronto’s HIV/AIDS experts and activists are growing increasingly alarmed by “a hidden epidemic” — infected people who have lived decades longer than anyone imagined and are being hit with a host of aging illnesses in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They include dementia, cardiovascular and liver disease, cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, emphysema and kidney problems

This article also speaks of long time survivors who are aging faster than people who don't have the virus, perhaps 10 - 20 years faster. This equation, I believe, was compiled by a medical research group, based on the abuse we do to our bodies and the medications that affect our organs after many years. Some days, I swear I know what it feels like to be 70 years old and I'm only 57.


The biggest concern I have is that there may come a time when I am not able to care for myself. I know I wouldn't want to burden my family members or friends to have to take care of me. This means going into some sort of long-term care facility. I’ve worked in those places and I know that not many of them are places I would want to be. I worked as a Personal Support Worker and when I took my course, the section on HIV/AIDS was one paragraph in the book. We learned about universal precautions, working with each patient/resident as if they could have HIV, but there were some in the class that said they didn't feel they could work with someone with AIDS. There definitely needs to be more education in that part of the healthcare system; long-term care facilities are not ready for us.

When I do put my affairs in order, I’ll be setting up a "secondary decision maker" to make sure my healthcare is what I want to live with.

One thing I can't wait for is becoming a little grumpy old man someday! It could be so much fun.

PositiveLite adds: Aging has been one hot topic on this site. Look at these back-posts for a variety of additional perspectives:

Seniors’ housing issues here.

Gen Silent, a movie about lgbt seniors here.

HIV and aging health issues here .

Mark S King on aging with HIV here .

From the OHTN research conference, standards of care for aging HIV patients here and here .

Amy Justice and a large study of aging HIVers, their issues and neurological impairment here.

Brian Finch on HANDS


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