By 2015 more than half of all people living with HIV in the United States will be older than 50. A fair number of people are simply living much longer with HIV, and that’s a good thing. Too many, however, are contracting HIV when they’re older than 50, and their health needs will be different from someone who tested positive at a younger age. What’s more, research increasingly shows that diseases that typically strike HIV-negative people in their 60s and 70s are occurring in people with HIV in their 40s and 50s. These concerns have brought the issue of aging with HIV to center stage.
Right now one of the biggest unanswered questions is why this is occurring. There’s no doubt that many age-related diseases and conditions are popping up at much higher rates—and at younger ages—in people with HIV compared with HIV-negative people. Whether it’s heart attacks, bone fractures, kidney disease or certain cancers, the rates of these conditions in HIV-positive people are alarming. What’s unclear, however, is how much HIV contributes to these conditions, how much is explainable by other factors (such as smoking, HIV drugs and coinfection with other viruses) and what to do about them.
Researchers are working furiously to answer these questions, but in the meantime, this lesson is designed to explain:
- How aging works in a general sense
- What we know about HIV and the aging process
- What steps can be taken to reduce the risk of aging-related diseases, and
- What kinds of experimental treatments are on the horizon
The good news is that most HIV-positive people can do quite a lot to slow the aging process and guard against the onset of age-related illness. Before we get to that, however, it’s important to understand how aging works in the first place.