Last Saturday Dr. Stephen Karpiak and I spoke at the SAGE National Constituents Conference, The Future of Aging is in Our Hands! Our workshop, “Aging with HIV: The Complications for Success,” was well attended by a mix of people, including gay men living with HIV, activists, and social workers from the LGBT community.
Dr. Karpiak presented the background statistics, using graphs compiled from CDC and other data, which clearly and dramatically demonstrated the magnitude of the issue. People over fifty make up a large and growing segment of those living with HIV. He also presented the findings from the ROAH study from ACRIA on HIV Over Fifty. The data gives a picture into the psycho-social issues faced by this group. Particularly striking to me was the multiple co-morbid conditions (issues including depression, physical illness, financial limitations, lack of social support) that impact the lives of people living with HIV over age fifty.
Dr. Karpiak shared his evaluation about the workshop with me: “It is always reinforcing to see research data supported by the observations of the clinician. This was clearly the case at our dual presentation at the SAGE Meetings this past weekend. ACRIA’s research on the older adult with HIV (ROAH) describes a population who are long-term survivors in the HIV epidemic. They have had to develop different coping strategies as they shifted from the expected short life following an HIV/AIDS diagnoses to a long life span due to effective drug treatment. And now they face another challenge. At age 50-60 they are developing multiple age-related disorders that would typically be seen in 75+ year old adults. We know that successful aging is achieved when the person has support from their social networks – caregiving. But the older person with HIV, like the older lgbt person, is largely without traditional family networks from which most caregivers are derived. They cannot fight this next challenge alone. How will our community respond to this need? Will they respond ?”
For my part, I focused on what we know about aging from the gerontological literature and the unique concerns I identified in my research on HIV over fifty. People over age fifty living with HIV face many of the same challenges of aging as those who are HIV negative. However, HIV complicates the picture in a number of ways, including, but certainly not limited to, symptom ambiguity – the difficulty determining whether an ailment is age or AIDS-related. After presenting the challenges faced by people aging with HIV, I presented some of the solutions found in the gerontological literature to help people optimize their experience of aging.
The workshop included a lengthy group discussion in which audiences members shared their experiences, challenges, and what works for them. It was exactly the type of conversation that I advocate for in Aging with HIV: A Gay Man’s Guide, to empower people to define Optimal aging with HIV for themselves.