The value of relationships, work and social involvement, continues across the entire life span.   These activities contribute to a person’s social network and socialization. For most older adults with HIV as well as those Long Term Survivors, there has been a withdrawal from life which contributes to their loneliness and isolation. The magnitude of the losses they have sustained has left them with fragile if almost non-existent social networks. Adjustments to physical and financial challenges have further diminished their social involvement. Some call this a “shrinking kind of life”. For many the idea of working is not reality based since to do so would jeopardize their medical and living benefits.

These challenges can be overcome with effort. One method involves using one’s strengths creatively to interact with others through teaching, mentoring, volunteering, or leading. Generativity can be seen in the narratives of older adults with HIV.


  • Arthur, age 64, talked about his writing as a way to “leave something behind”, Luis, 51 volunteered at an AIDS service organization to “make a difference.” Tim, at 50, described his activism as honoring friends who died of AIDS:
  • “For my friends that are dead… it’s not for me, it’s for the future as my friends did it for me, I want to do it for them. I want the future better for people 
  • “You have to care about other people, and try to integrate your life with other people.”
  • In adulthood we continue our psychological development through mastering the challenge of generativity vs. stagnation. For Luis the solution was obvious: “I refuse to be stagnated.” Sometimes the decision to be generative involves subtle choices regards how and with whom we spend our time. This was evident as Patrick, age 55, expressed ambivalence about reconstructing a career at middle age.
  • Generativity has psychological benefits including helping people with HIV rebuild social relationships, reclaim goals taken away by HIV/AIDS.

What you can do

Here are a few strategies for generativity that emerged from my study of aging with HIV:

  • Teach a class or workshop
  • Lead a social group
  • Tutor a child
  • Provide companionship to a homebound person
  • Become politically active
  • Be an HIV peer educator
  • Serve on a community advisory board
  • Join a chorus
  • Create an inter-generational art project
  • Mentor gay teens
  • Join a professional organization
  • Start a blog
  • Write an editorial on aging with HIV


It’s never too late to pursue a goal, find new interests or positively impact someone’s life. You have a great deal to offer, but you are of no service to anyone, including yourself, if you don’t put yourself out there.

Adapted from an article by James Masten PhD. LCSW at