Aging with AIDS: Social, Support Services as Important as Medical Ones

At the start of June The New York Times had a powerful profile article on older people living with AIDS. The article reminds us of two things. 1) Though HIV/AIDS is treatable, the treatment is complex and the disease is still active. 2) There is still a great need for HIV/AIDS social services, especially, as those living with the disease age into numbers they never thought they’d see:

Mr. Schalchlin no longer worries about dying of AIDS. But he has other health problems, more often seen in people 10 or 20 years older: kidney damage, diabetes, chronic fatigue, thyroid disease, partial paralysis in one eye and general weakness that limits him throughout the day.

He is, he has learned, host to a virus that never stops working, grinding away at him, and requiring sustained, complicated treatment, each medicine bringing its own side effects. At times, he said, it becomes too much.
“Sometimes I just get so tired of the fight, it just becomes exhausting,” he said. “Do I have to go another day with this, and another day, and another day? I don’t think about the future because I’m too busy worrying about the next day and the next hour and the next meal and which pill I’m supposed to take.”

[snip]

Yet others become more isolated as they age, without support networks, religious ties or even someone to take them to a doctor when they feel ill. This isolation, doctors say, makes the disease more potent.

Nearly three-quarters of H.I.V.-positive New Yorkers ages 50 and older live alone, according to the health department; in a 2006 survey of 914 H.I.V.-positive older New Yorkers by the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, two-thirds of the respondents were moderately or severely depressed.

Many people with H.I.V. will not go to senior centers for fear of discrimination, said Daniel Tietz, the initiative’s executive director. Others say that, as older gay men with H.I.V., they feel shut out from AIDS service organizations geared to younger or newly infected men, and from bars where they once felt at home.

“The amazing psychosocial programs that developed in the 1980s when there was no medical treatment are an afterthought these days,” said Perry N. Halkitis, 50, a professor of psychology and public health at New York University, who is H.I.V.-positive. “Now it’s completely biomedicalized. In the 1980s, you relied on these other therapies, which are absolutely critical as men get older.”

Read the full article

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