HIV and aging

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If you are over 50 and have HIV, you are not unique. Almost half of Americans living with HIV/AIDS are over 50. But, because you are in that age group, you do face some unique health issues versus younger people with HIV. Here are some things you should know. 

Does HIV speed up aging?

The science is mixed on this question. One leading research group studied immune-system damage associated with both conditions and reported a major difference. But another group studied a different part of the immune system and reported HIV and aging caused similar effects. Most scientists seem to agree that HIV does not speed the aging process. As more is learned, HIV and aging will be increasingly recognized as different, though with considerable overlap.

What effect does HIV have as you get older?

The practical effect is that, if you have HIV, the risk you would otherwise have for certain age-related conditions, like cardiovascular disease, is increased. Usually this increase is relatively small, but for a few conditions, like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the risk can be much greater. People with AIDS once had 165 times the risk of that type of lymphoma — later reduced by more than half with treatment.

Does exercise help?

One study found that people over 50 with HIV who have moderate physical activity have better executive functioning — the ability to plan, organize, remember details and manage time and space. This is no surprise, but yet another reason to get some exercise, for mental as well as physical benefit. 

What is the most common medical issue?

One issue that applies to almost everybody is called polypharmacy: Due to age, and also due to HIV, you get many different prescriptions from your doctors. Therefore, the risk of harmful drug interactions is greatly increased.

Drugs can interact not only with other prescription drugs, but with over-the-counter supplements. There is no complete solution. One part of the problem is that drug-interaction studies are usually done in young, healthy volunteers, not always an accurate guide for older people.

In addition to interactions with other drugs, there can be interactions with certain foods. For example, grapefruit is notorious, but orange is OK. There are other foods to be aware of as well. A good source of information is “Recommended Treatment Strategies for Clinicians Managing Older Patients with HIV,” published by the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the American Geriatrics Society.

To avoid interaction, doctors have to be careful, but patients can help as well. The report recommends patients fill all prescriptions at the same pharmacy. You can also check for drug interactions through various sites, such as http://reference.medscape.com/drug-interactionchecker.

Where can you get more information and resources?

The AIDS Library of Philadelphia, 1233 Locust St., second floor, has a comprehensive list of resources at www.aidslibrary.org/resource-guide; 215-985-4851.

Another source of information on HIV and aging can be found at www.lgbtei.org, which offers info on such issues as health care and nutrition. You can also learn more at “Gettin’ Older with HIV,” part of the LGBT Elder Initiative’s Conversations series of educational forums. The program will be held Sept. 20, and is free and open to the public. For more information, call the EI at 267-546-3448 or email at [email protected]

References for publications and other information cited in this article can be found at www.aidsnews.org/aging