Life Can Get Better -- Even with AIDS
Positive Outlook Linked to Optimism, Meditation/Prayer
May 2, 2003 -- Even if you have a deadly disease, your life can get better. But it takes hope and practice, a study of people with HIV/AIDS suggests.
Joel Tsevat, MD, MPH, director of outcomes research for the University of Cincinnati and the VA Healthcare System of Ohio, led a study of 449 people with HIV infection. They'd been infected for a long time -- 8.4 years, on average -- and more than 60% had AIDS. More than three-fourths of the patients were taking AIDS drugs.
The patients were asked to think back to the time when they first learned they were HIV positive. Had life gotten better or worse since then? A third of the patients said their lives were better. What made them different from the others? Those whose lives got better had fewer financial worries. They also worried less about people finding out they had HIV or AIDS. But other things were even more important.
"Those whose life got better were more optimistic and they reported non-organized religious activities," Tsevat tells WebMD. "They more often participated in mediation, prayer, and/or bible study and were more satisfied with life in general."
Feeling that life gets better was linked to health benefits, Tsevat reported at this week's annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine.
"Things like their overall functioning, their medication worries, their trust in their provider, sexual function, level of symptoms, level of depression, all correlated in a positive direction with the feeling that life got better," Tsevat says. "The next step in our research is to try to design interventions for the two-thirds of patients who aren't quite at that stage. For some people it might be trying to alleviate their financial problems or worries about telling others about their HIV or AIDS. For others it might be some kind of clergy intervention or social support or treatment for depression."
Tsevat stresses that while getting HIV may be a wake-up call for some people, there's nothing good about getting HIV infection. That's important to remember, says Michael Shernoff, MSW. Shernoff is a New York psychotherapist whose patients include many men with HIV infection. A well-known patient advocate and activist, he's lived with HIV for 27 years.
Shernoff recently told WebMD that disease itself doesn't bring positive change. That's up to the individual.
"I can't say I have learned wonderful lessons from this illness," Shernoff says. "HIV has not caused people to have this enormous spiritual awakening. It's up to them to become empowered. Empowerment today means taking complete and total responsibility for your own healthcare. It really is being true to yourself. It comes down to authenticity, to not assuming a victim status just because you have a life-threatening illness. It is the headset of living with HIV rather than dying with AIDS."