Newsweek Examines the Effect of Aging on People Living With HIV/AIDSNewsweek on Thursday examined the effects of aging on HIV-positive people older than age 50, who currently comprise the fastest-growing group of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. From 1990 to 2005, the number of HIV cases among people older than 50 increased by more than 700%, according to local Department of Health studies. In addition, the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America reports that 35% of HIV-positive people are age 50 or older, and 70% are age 40 or older.
Although some of the older HIV-positive people recently contracted the disease, most have been living with the virus for many years, Newsweek reports. Some advocates said that many HIV-positive people in the age group living with HIV are men who have sex with men. According to Newsweek, the current generation of over-50 HIV-positive people is the first to experience the effects of aging on HIV/AIDS. Richard Havlik, epidemiologist and former chief of epidemiology at the National Institute on Aging, said the effects of aging may be particularly strong among HIV-positive people particularly because the aging process involves declining immunity.
In addition, side effects from antiretroviral drugs might enhance natural aging symptoms, and little is known about drug interactions among older people living with HIV. Drug companies rarely have enrolled older people in clinical trials for antiretrovirals because of concern that the group would complicate results because it has a higher risk of other diseases, Newsweek reports. As a result, health care workers have limited information on the effects of antiretrovirals among aging populations. Stephen Karpiak, ACRIA's director of research and author of a study on HIV and aging, said, "From a health care viewpoint, that's one of the great black boxes." Bill Stackhouse, director for men's health at the Gay Men's Health Crisis, added, "The good news is that the meds are great, and people are living longer. But now there's a whole new set of issues to be faced."
According to a 2006 ACRIA study, depression rates among HIV-positive people are 13 times higher than among the general population. Newsweek reports that many older HIV-positive people lack social support networks. Senior HIV-positive MSM are twice as likely to live alone as heterosexual people living with HIV. Charles Emlet -- a social worker at the University of Washington who studies HIV and aging -- said, "People with better social networks are more adherent to their meds, less likely to be depressed, and we know from gerentological literature that those with better social networks live longer -- outside of HIV" (Bennett, Newsweek, 9/18). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.