As millions of people rock the ribbon in commemoration of tomorrow’s World AIDS Day, we have another milestone to acknowledge: 2019 is the first year when 50% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are over the age of 50 – and by 2030, it’s expected to be 70%.
People with HIV are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. This is striking considering, just a generation ago, it was inconceivable to believe that someone diagnosed with HIV could live even a few years with the disease, to say nothing of living with it for decades. People living with HIV today aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving – but with this progress comes new challenges. The HIV community needs to take steps to ensure people who are aging with HIV are also happy and healthy.
Queerty asked Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy, for tips on aging with HIV that can demystify living a quality positive life so we can age positively.
Here they are. Happy World AIDS Day.
1. Take Your Medicine
Simple, yes? We have to say it. Adhering to your regimen as prescribed is the first step to living and aging with HIV.
2. Set Up Your Dream Team
Maintaining your physical health is your number one priority and you can’t do it alone. As you age, you need more than just one doctor who can monitor your viral loads at a semiannual appointment. It is now time to identify a geriatric specialist, a cardiovascular specialist, and a primary care doctor who can administer vaccines and monitor your overall health to ensure all your medications work well together.
3. Have Fun
For many people aging with HIV, the stigma that comes with their status can be an isolating experience. But the community of people aging with HIV is growing, generating more opportunities to connect. Sharing experiences with others and creating bonds nourishes both the body and soul.
4. Eat Your Veggies
…and don’t forget your fruits, grains, and lean protein. As a person aging with HIV, you need to be deliberate about eating superfoods that contain all the necessary nutrients your body requires to maintain optimal health. Deficiencies can lead to muscle loss and other seemingly minor health issues that can open the door to an attack on the immune system.
5. Ditch the Cigarettes
Studies show that people living with HIV are 2-3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes than those who don’t have HIV. The effects of cigarettes make people living with HIV less responsive to antiretroviral therapy and more susceptible to smoking-related illnesses. Within this community, health should be the number one priority. Given the impact that smoking has on overall health and its linkage to cancers, let’s toss the cigs in exchange for longer, healthier life.
6. And let’s keep the alcohol to a minimum
Drinking too much, in both the short and long term, can damage your body. It can decrease your ability to filter out toxins, harm your kidneys, and weaken the immune system – which is already compromised from HIV.
7. Get moving
Try to get up off the couch and move every day. Staying active and keeping your weight at a healthy level can reduce the chance of suffering additional health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and muscle loss. It’s also a natural mood booster and reduces the risk of being diagnosed with dementia. Feel intimidated? The best exercise regimen is one you can stick with, so pick something you enjoy and go for it.
8. Hey ladies
The change is coming…
We tend to focus on men, the majority of LGBTQ in the U.S. who are HIV positive, and all these facts are gender-neutral, but women should pay attention too. The “change” (also known as menopause) is inevitable. It is increasingly important that as you experience bodily and physical changes, you should consult with your doctor to ensure that your health is in good standing. Many menopausal symptoms mirror HIV symptoms, so you should monitor them closely. If one of your doctors puts you on hormone replacement therapy, be sure to consult with your HIV specialist to ensure it doesn’t impact the effectiveness of your antiretroviral therapy.
9. Keep it safe in the bedroom
What you do in the bedroom is your business, but there are ways to maintain a healthy sexual life while aging with HIV. Using protection can greatly reduce the risk of transmission.
10. Use your resources
GMHC recently launched the National Resource Center on HIV & Aging, a comprehensive site that offers easy-to-read information, webinars, conference summaries, slide decks, infographics, short videos, and summaries of current research. An interactive national map, informed by community input, helps users find supportive programs and conferences. The Resource Center was created in partnership with Gilead Science’s Age Positively program, which supports programs focused on improving the quality of life and health for people aging with HIV.
Thanks to Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy, for this article.