Studies in the United States and around the world have found that older people living with HIV are exhibiting a significantly higher frequency of multimorbidity. Often, this issue is framed around the belief that HIV causes other health conditions or affecting the aging processes. That perspective is understandable given the uncertainties of getting older. However, research and clinical data do not match that belief. Yes, HIV must be controlled to protect health. The sooner HIV is suppressed and the longer that suppression is sustained, your health can be better. Aging becomes more apparent as you find yourself in your 50s and 60s and 70s. You cannot change your HIV status, nor can you change how you have lived in the past.
You also cannot change your genetic makeup that affects your health. But there are factors that can be changed. Many of these are lifestyle changes. Specific ways to address this issue can be found in the Health Management section at www.AgingHIV.org.
What you can do with your doctor
You can change or address many of the factors that contribute to illnesses associated with aging. Each of these variables create an inflammatory response in your body. HIV also contributes to the inflammatory cascade in the body. Many lifestyle changes can eliminate or modify the number and intensity of illnesses associated with aging. But it is ALL of these factors, not just one, that affect how we age. If you have hepatitis C, for example, getting cured of the disease would be a choice. In all cases you should consult your doctor as to how best to try to change some of these factors. You may require professional support (e.g. psychologist) or programs (e.g. 12-step, etc.) for some issues such as mental health or substance use. Mental health issues cannot – must not – be ignored. Unmanaged depression is contributes to increased rates of multimorbidity as well as higher risk for death. You should seek out mental health care that works for you. There are many options for treating mental health conditions.
What you can do
Changing lifestyle behaviors is a challenge. A diet or exercise program that works for you may not work for others. There are many programs and interventions available to help you change your diet or exercise habits. Often you can better achieve lifestyle changes if you work with another person or group. Group activities are available through community-based programs such as ASOs (AIDS Service Organizations) and LGBTQ+ Centers. The word lifestyle is used here. This means that you make sustained changes in your day-to-day activities and adopt healthy living or health-seeking behaviors. HIV does increase risk for some conditions such as cardiovascular disease, but this risk can be addressed through lifestyle changes. While HIV cannot be changed, you can adopt healthy behaviors that will help prevent or slow other health issues associated with aging.