Older adults with HIV, including long-term survivors, may have withdrawn from life, which contributes to loneliness and isolation. Your social networks may be small or fragile due to the deaths of people you have known during your lifetime. Physical and financial challenges may further diminish your social involvement. Some call this a “shrinking kind of life”. Many would like to work, which would resolve many of these issues. But that is often not possible since full-time work would jeopardize their medical and government benefits.
These challenges can be overcome with effort. Older adults with HIV can benefit from developing social networks through their personal relationships, groups, and even workplaces. You can help others through teaching, mentoring, volunteering, or leading. These narratives of older adults with HIV show some of the ways that you can develop new social outlets while helping younger generations.
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.
What you can do
Here are a few strategies for engaging with your community.
- 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 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 affect another person’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.
What you can do yourself
You are likely taking many medications. You should make sure you take them at the prescribed time and frequency. Pill boxes with daily doses lined up can be helpful. Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be potent. You should inform your physician if you are taking any OTC drugs. You should also disclose if you are taking too many pills or are experiencing side effects that affect your day-to-day activities or suppress your appetite.
Your pharmacist is the most knowledgeable about drugs and their interactions. Your pharmacist can review all your medications including those being dispensed from other pharmacies. To avoid problems with your meds, you should have all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy.
Unfortunately, there are not enough geriatricians in the United States. In fact, their numbers are declining even as the population of older adults grows. Your primary care physician who manages your HIV is unlikely to be a geriatrician. However, some geriatricians are providing consultations when requested by an HIV treating physicians. Reports show that the HIV treating physicians are not following all the recommendations made by geriatricians who are consulted. If you are referred to a geriatrician, you should have a copy of their recommendations to your HIV treating physician and questions decisions not to follow your geriatrician’s recommendations. While more HIV care providers need to embrace geriatric approaches, you will also need to advocate for these approaches in your own care