HIV and ageing
The benefits of ageing
Ageing can bring new positive perspectives to life that are only possible because of 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 at a younger age.
Life can still be dynamic and exciting as we grow older. Of course there will be differences compared to when we 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.
Because 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. 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 it is true that we are living much longer, HIV positive people still have higher rates of many common health complications.
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 also brings health issues that can 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.
- 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.
- Social life, the risk of isolation, financial insecurity and care in old age.
Access to healthcare
Medical management of many of these health complications might also involve your GP and other health care professionals.
In the UK, some HIV services are routinely being moved to GP care. GPs might 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 might involve services that have less experience with HIV. This is an aspect of life that will become increasingly important as routine HIV care gets easier to manage. On the other hand, it will remain just as essential for your HIV doctor to be involved in any HIV-related complications.
Ageing is easier with some planning! You can take an active role in staying well.
- 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 might find less stressful exercises more fulfilling. You might 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 the 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.
Daily life can easily become more sedentary and less active by spending more time 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. It gives you time to breathe deeply, think about 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.
- Always 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 might 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 and blood vessels, raise 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.
Links on HIV and ageing
Fifty over 50: a collection of individual reflections on growing older with HIV
This community publication from 2022 includes the experiences of fifty people living with HIV in the UK.
Coming of Age
This community guide includes a comprehensive review of medical management of people living with HIV as we grow older. It is available in English and ten translations.
Last updated: 1 March 2023.