The benefits of ageing

Ageing can bring new positive perspectives to life that are only possible because of your previous experiences.

This can often bring greater personal confidence and assurance. It can include a greater appreciation for time and for making every day count. Sometimes this can bring a freedom from many of the insecurities and uncertainties that are common when you are younger.

Life can still be dynamic and exciting as you grow older. Of course there will be differences compared to when you were younger but these are not bad things.

By looking after your health, staying physically and mentally active and looking forward to the future optimistically, this should be an enjoyable and rewarding time of life.

As ageing involves a higher risk of some health problems, researchers are now looking at how HIV affects ageing.

Many people living with HIV are now in their 50s and 60s and thinking about long-term issues that they never expected. Treatment has been so successful at keeping most of us alive, that life-expectancy is now similar to that of someone who is HIV negative.

While this is true, HIV positive people still have higher rates of many common health complications.
By 2015, more than half of the HIV positive people in many Western countries will be older than 50 years.

There are also increasing rates of new infections in older people: over 10% of new infections are in people over 50.

Complications of ageing

Ageing brings health issues that can also be important to mention in this guide.

This is because many of the ageing processes involve body systems that are affected by HIV and sometimes by side effects.

These include:

  • Physical health: agility, strength, balance and frailty.
  • Mental health: neurological problems including memory, concentration, depression and dementia.
  • Sensory functions: eyesight, hearing.
  • Sexual health and hormone changes.
  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Lipid metabolism.
  • Liver and kidney function.
  • Bone health and reduced bone density.
  • Cancers.
  • Social life, isolation and financial security.

Access to healthcare

Medical management of many of these health complications may also involve your GP and other health care professionals.

In the UK, some HIV services are routinely being moved to GP care. GPs may have more experience in these areas than your HIV doctor, including:

  • Lipid management (although interactions with HIV meds often requires specialist advice).
  • Services to help stop smoking.
  • Diabetes management.
  • Some cancer screening programmes.

Complications that are not managed by your HIV clinic may involve services that have less experience with HIV. This is an aspect of life that will become increasingly important as routine HIV care becomes normalised. On the other hand, it will remain just as essential for your HIV doctor to be involved in any HIV-related complications.

Lifestyle choices

Ageing takes planning! You can take an active role in reducing your risk of many common health complications.

  • Just as for HIV negative people, this includes staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, moderate use of alcohol, and keeping mentally active.
  • As you get older, your goals are likely to change. Physically you may find less stressful exercises more fulfilling. You may prefer socialising in bars that are less crowded and noisy. These are all important qualities of life.
  • New interests will become more important and have a different quality compared to some of things you did when you were younger.
  • Finding something to make each day important and having goals for the short, medium and long-term can help.

Exercise

Daily life can easily become more sedentary and less active: spending more hours on a computer or watching TV. Unless you stay active, your strength, agility and endurance will reduce.

Ageing is associated with poorer physical health. Find time to keep your body active.

  • Walking is the easiest exercise. You get time to breathe deeply, think about your life, see your surroundings and enjoy the seasons.
  • Most gyms usually include free initial training and a wide range of classes: yoga, dance, swimming, boxing.
  • TIt is always advised to talk to your doctor or take medical advice before starting any new exercise programme.

Diet: food, drink, cigarettes

What you eat and drink can have a big impact on your health.

  • A balanced diet includes vegetables, fruit, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Lifestyle changes that can help your health often include eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and eating less saturated fats and fried food.
  • Keeping to the recommended amount of salt will reduce the risk of high blood pressure, kidney damage and diabetes.
  • Foods high in sugar and salt increase the risk of diabetes.
  • Alcohol in moderation may have health benefits. Weekly guidelines are up to 21 units for men and up to 14 for women. One unit is a small glass of wine, a half pint of beer or a single spirit measure.
  • Cigarettes damage your lungs, blood vessels, cholesterol levels and are associated with an increased risk of numerous cancers.

There is a direct link between calories in your diet, the energy you use each day and your weight. If you eat more calories than you use you will put on weight and taking less calories will lose weight.

Whatever your goals, these will be easier to achieve and maintain if you plan these as part of longer-term lifestyle changes.

Your hospital dietician can help with details of your own diet.

1 July 2012