The 2011 HIV/AIDS and Aging Symposium held in Austin, TX last week was an inspiring event. I was proud to be a participant in a true community-based, grass-roots initiative to address the concerns of this often invisible, yet growing population. It was informative. – I learned a few things that I didn’t know about HIV/AIDS and Aging. But, even more importantly, the symposium brought together people from diverse backgrounds to discuss how the issue is impacting their community. The symposium was a great model for how communities across America can respond to the issue of Aging with HIV.
After registration and a light breakfast (that I truly appreciated at 8AM) the 90 plus participants gathered for the opening remarks. The first speaker, Justin Irving, from the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services presented the HIV/AIDS demographics and emerging population trends. This was a good grounding for the event offering a local and national context for the discussion.
The group divided into two “breakout sessions” – Aging 101 and HIV/AIDS. I attended the HIV/AIDS seminar presented by Jennifer Herrera from AIDS services of Austin. It was a great overview of the illness in which I learned a few things about HIV transmission. She also focused on how HIV is affecting folks in Austin, and emphasized the need for prevention geared toward older people. I walked away with some ideas on how to help social workers talk about sex and HIV education. I am sure that the concurrent session offered by Annette Juba from AGE was as informative and community building as the one I attended.
We broke for lunch, and I attended a “leadership luncheon” with the executive directors from area agencies servicing seniors and people living with HIV. I left the lunch feeling hopeful that there was a forum in this community for leaders from both fields to come together and problem solve to address this issue.
It was then my turn to bring everyone together. My talk was entitled, “Aging with HIV: The challenges of living longer than expected.” I gave an overview of the demographics nationwide on HIV over fifty and talked about why Aging will be “the issue” in HIV in the coming years. By 2015 the majority of people living with HIV will be over fifty. While this is a hopeful statistic, it is also a troubling one, since we currently know very little about what it means with HIV. I presented the public health challenges this trend creates. I talked about the issue of mortality and medical challenges that midlife and older people face as they live longer with HIV. And, I presented the complex psycho-social challenges that accompany aging with HIV. We concluded the session with a discussion of the unique constellation of issues faced by people living with HIV over age fifty, the similarities and differences with younger folks living with HIV, as well as their HIV-negative peers. Experts in the fields of aging and HIV were able to share their experience to help each other find solutions for the challenges of living longer than expected.
The final panel was made up of midlife and older people living with HIV and local agency workers servicing this population. They offered their experience and gave real faces to the concerns of people living with HIV in the Austin community.
The HIV/AIDS and Aging Symposium Committee created an effective model for sharing of information and ideas that can be replicated in communities throughout the country.