Many people think of HIV as a young person's disease, but it's not. "By 2015, half of all people with HIV will be 50 or older," says Brad Hare, MD, director of the HIV/AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital. This greying of the HIV population shows how well today’s HIV treatments can work.
HIV makes aging itself more complicated. But plenty of people have had HIV for years, even decades, and are doing well.
People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) have a weakened immune system. As a result, they are more likely to develop certain cancers. This includes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Also known as AIDS-related lymphoma, this is a cancer of white blood cells. White blood cells fight infection.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a later stage of HIV infection. Fortunately, antiretroviral therapy has cut the rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in HIV-positive people significantly.
"These days, we fully expect that someone with HIV will live a long, healthy life," says Christine A. Wanke, MD, professor of medicine and director of the nutrition and infection unit at Tufts University School of Medicine. "But that means they have to plan ahead and adopt the healthy habits to stay that way, just like anyone without HIV."
HIV and Aging: 5 Common Challenges
As you get older with HIV, you may face issues including:
1. Other conditions. Just like anybody, getting older means you're more likely to have health problems, and HIV seems to bump up the risk even more. "HIV accelerates the aging process and magnifies its effects," says John G. Bartlett, MD, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of its AIDS service. So HIV may make you more likely to get heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, kidney problems, and other conditions.
2. Drug interactions. Since you’re already taking medicines for HIV, additional drugs for other conditions can increase the chance of interactions.
3. Loss of support. Some people become more isolated as they age. That happens more often to people with HIV, who may also be dealing with embarrassment about the condition or strained family relationships. If you're alone and disconnected, you're more likely to get depressed.
4. Changing roles. Like many people without HIV, you may be caring for your aging parents. That can add emotional and financial pressures.
5. Difficulty adjusting. "I talk to people with HIV who say, 'I didn't expect to live to middle age,'" says Hare. "'But now I'm middle-aged and I'm probably going to live another 30 years.'" Many people who got HIV long ago didn't plan for a long life, and adjusting can be a challenge. For instance, you might not have saved for a longer life.