Rae Lewis-Thornton: The Graying Of HIV/AIDS

African American senior couple in kitchen hugging with coffee mugsIn 1987 when I was diagnosed with HIV there were two certainties. For sure, everyone diagnosed with HIV would progress to AIDS and everyone with AIDS would die. If you were a long-term survivor, you were considered a miracle. Now, over 30 years later so much has changed and we are seeing a large portion of those infected over 20 years ago still living and thriving.

With the success of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) medications, the greying of HIV/AIDS is surely a thing. At my clinic you can often hear someone saying, with a big smile scrolled across their face, “I’m 25 years in.” This is a strong contrast to the death toll that many of us saw back in the day. For sure this is a good thing and the medical community is looking closely at what this means for those living with HIV/AIDS and aging.

The fact of the matter is everyone’s HIV/AIDS is different. This is true from the strand of the virus you are infected with, to how early you enter into treatment. This also includes what damage was done to the body or not, prior and even during treatment. For example, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) about seven years ago. My doctors believe this is a by-product of taking the earlier HIV medications that were so much more toxic then the ones today. So the management of my health requires more than an HIV doctor but also a gastroenterologist. While my situation may differ from yours, there are some commonalities among those aging with HIV.

For sure, those living with HIV have a higher rate of age-related conditions than those aging without HIV. STOP! Yes, I’m saying what you think I’m saying. Not only do we have to manage HIV disease for the rest of our lives, we also have to manage our overall health with a fine tooth comb. There is an acceleration of heart disease, kidney disease, non-HIV cancers, osteoporosis and even issues related to the central nervous system. Even our life expectancy is lower than those aging without HIV.