HIV: Not Just a Young Person’s Disease

Sangarlangkarn

Aroonsiri Sangarlangkarn, MD MPH
Geriatrics Fellow
Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, New York

Did you know that by 2015, fifty percent of people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in the United States will be over 50 years old? Or that 17% of new HIV infections happen to older adults?

People living in the 1980s would be surprised to hear these facts. When HIV was first discovered in 1981, we did not have effective medications to treat HIV, and many people died young, soon after they were diagnosed.

The good news is that healthcare has come a long way since then. Today, we have effective medications for HIV, called antiretroviral therapy, and people rarely die from HIV anymore. Now that people with HIV are living longer, we have more and more older adults who have HIV.

The bad news is that we still cannot cure HIV, and aging with HIV is not easy. Chronic HIV infection and long-term effects of HIV medications can lead to other health problems. For example, patients with HIV may be at higher risk for bone loss, making them more prone to getting osteoporosis compared to people without HIV. Osteoporosis is just one of the problems— chronic HIV infection increases risks for many other chronic diseases. It can also carry a stigma that can make it hard for older adults to make new friends or keep their social network.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from HIV as you age? Here are some tips:

Stay updated on safe sex practices: Unprotected sex with an infected partner is the most common way people get HIV.Practicing safe sex is a must. Even if you no longer worry about unwanted pregnancies, you still need condoms to protect you from sexually transmitted diseases, HIV included. If you are recently rejoining the dating scene, make sure to stay up to date with new information on HIV and safe sex practices—information might have changed from the last time you heard about it.

Get more information from HealthinAging.org’s section on Sexual Health and the Safe Sex Tip sheet.

Get tested: Knowing your HIV status is important, and everyone should get tested. This is because HIV infection is hard to detect without a test.  Its symptoms mimic many other diseases, including symptoms related to advancing age. Moreover, after the initial infection passes, you might not have any symptoms until it is too late.  Untreated HIV weakens your immune system and leaves you open to getting  sick from infections.  Do not wait until it is too late—get tested today.

If you have HIV:

  • Find a healthcare provider and a pharmacy that specialize in HIV. HIV is a complicated disease, so you want to make sure your healthcare professionals have experience dealing with HIV.
  • Take your medications as prescribed. If you do not take medications correctly, your HIV pills may be less effective in the future.
  • Exercise and eat a healthy diet. This helps your immune system stay healthier and keep HIV under control.

Aging with HIV is a new experience, and it is an important topic in medical research. In fact, the American Geriatrics Society has partnered with other organizations to develop a website about HIV and Aging to help provide updated research and treatment guidelines to HIV doctors. Feel free to share this website with your healthcare provider, and visit it often to find out the latest updates on this topic.

Get Involved: Live Happier Longer

Coleman, Jessica 4x6Jessica L. Coleman, DO
Geriatrics Fellow
Summa Health System
Akron, Ohio

 

We all know that volunteering for local organizations is a great use of free time. But did you also know that it can not only improve your mood, but also help prolong your life and prevent memory loss?

Volunteering has been shown to be one of the most effective ways for older adults to stay active, learn new skills, make new friends, and be healthier.

Getting involved in your community can be as easy as heading to your local library to read to children after school, volunteering at your local hospital,or joining a service league in your area to meet others who also enjoy giving back.

Consider some of the following ways to connect with and contribute to your community:

  •  Foster Grandparent Programs: Connect with local children who need the love and support of an older adult to guide or comfort them. Work with troubled teens, young mothers, or premature infants—everyone can benefit from having an involved and caring grandparent.
  • Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs: Using the skills and talents you have gained over a lifelong career, serve as a volunteer in your community rebuilding homes, tutoring, or organizing neighborhood watch programs.
  • Senior Companions: Help keep a fellow senior independent and in their own home by assisting with daily tasks such as shopping or paying bills. You can provide respite for caregivers, family members, and make valuable friendships. Continue reading

Summer Travel Tips for Older Adults

Krupa Shah, MDKrupa Shah, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor

University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry
Division of Geriatrics & Aging, Department of Medicine
Rochester, New York

According to a survey conducted by AARP, those age 50 or older take on average six non-business related trips at least 50 miles from home each year.  And Travelzoo, Inc, a global internet media company, tells us that 40% of Americans are planning to take more summer vacations compared to last year.  The most popular type of vacation is the road trip, both for a short weekend or for a longer period of time.

Going on vacation can be a much more enjoyable experience with a little advance planning to make sure that we all stay safe and healthy.

  •  Be sure to pack all your medications.  Before you leave, check if you need refills during your trip.  Most pharmacies will accommodate flexible refills when they know you will be travelling away from home. Also carry a list of your current medications, their doses, and the time of day you take them.
  • Remember to actually take all your medications. Vacations often change our normal daily routine. It is important to make time for correct medication use during all the fun and new places that a summer vacation may bring.  Asking others who are with you to help remember, or setting a small timer, carrying a calendar or using a pill organizer may be helpful.
  • Be aware of side effects.  Some medications can cause side effects related to more time outside in the sun, like increased sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It may be helpful to review all medications with your pharmacist, and ask for further consultation with your doctor if you have any questions. Continue reading

Caregiving for an Older Adult: Stressing and a Blessing

Clare WohlgemuthClare M. Wohlgemuth, RN, GCNS-BC
Nursing Director, Geriatric Services
Boston Medical Center
Boston, Massachusetts

 If you are helping a family member or friend over age 50 with things such as dressing, bathing, housework, or taking medicine on a regular basis, then you are a caregiver. You are not alone—there are close to 50 million Americans involved in caregiving. Caregivers spend an average of 20 hours each week caring for one (or more) older adults. About one in four of caregivers have been giving care for more than five years. About three in four caregivers work a paying job and spend up to $5000 out of pocket each year to help with caregiving costs.

Caregiving has been a part of community life for a long time. These days, the amount and types of help provided by family caregivers has increased a great deal. This has also raised the costs of caregiving—both economic and psychological. Now, loved ones often come home from the hospital earlier and with more complicated conditions. This means that caregivers often take on many roles in addition to providing companionship and emotional support. Caregivers may give medications, find and coordinate services, and perform basic nursing. They also communicate with healthcare providers, coordinate care during transitions from hospital to home, and advocate for their loved ones during visits with healthcare providers and hospital stays.

Caregivers are at higher risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression because of the burden of these many roles. Their physical health may also suffer. It is normal for caregivers to feel alone and overwhelmed. Caregivers may also feel unable to communicate well with the person receiving care and/or other family members. They also report needing information on how to keep their loved ones safe at home and to find activities to do with them. And caregivers also need resources to help them manage their own stress and make time for themselves.

In our recent study of geriatrics health providers who are also caregivers, we found all of these challenges. Even those most prepared to handle all the different caregiving tasks found it very difficult. If you are a caregiver AND a healthcare professional, you may face additional burdens—and will also benefit from support. [You can click here to read the full study.]

What You Can Do
In order to cope with the demands of caregiving, all caregivers need to get help. It is good to ask questions, and to ask for help! If you are not happy with the answers you are getting, it’s important to keep asking. Also keep looking for the information and support that you need, perhaps from other resources. There are many places you can look to for help: hospitals, your community, and online resources.

Continue reading