Older adults with HIV are characterized as having high levels of loneliness. They experience loneliness at rates higher than older adults without HIV. But for most older adults with HIV, loneliness it is not by choice but circumstances. To escape the effects of AIDS stigma and the accompanying feelings of rejection and judgment by others, many people with HIV, including older adults, have chosen to isolate and intentionally withdraw. Many older adults with HIV have also been rejected by family and friends, and may not have been successful establishing other relationships. Their isolation causes dysfunction in their skills to interact with other people. In the process, they internalize the stigma they are trying to escape, Depression itself can magnify the isolation if it is not managed. Isolation can magnify depression creating a downward spiral. Studies have shown that loneliness has a high association with depression. Isolation also impedes the need to exercise as well as eat healthy food. Isolation often causes a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to the risk for developing and exacerbating the comorbidities associated with aging. Older adults experiencing depression may also lack the basic social supports that spouses, partners, and children often provide.
Older adults typically beginning experiencing loneliness in their 70s. This usually occurs when they lose spouses, partners, and friends, or become socially isolated due to deteriorating health and frailty. Higher levels of loneliness are correlated with poor health outcomes for people living with chronic illnesses, especially heart disease and cancers.
Finally, stigma plays a powerful role in fostering both social isolation and the loneliness that all people living with HIV may experience.
What you can and need to do
Recently the U.S. Surgeon General warned that Americans are “facing an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation.” The primary unmet need of older adults with HIV is socialization, a sentiment consistently expressed by this population in multiple research studies and reports. Socialization can have significant benefits and affect every part of a person’s health and care management. How do you create opportunities for socialization and reduce loneliness? One size does not fit all. You might attend events or participate in program. Your local AIDS Service Organization or other community-based organizations should have opportunities to socialize particularly during holiday seasons. If they are not providing these opportunities, you should ask them why they aren’t.
Socialization is part of our humanity and connects with each other. Friendships and volunteerism are ways we can give and be connected to others. Group activities such as sporting events or even games are other ways. Persistent loneliness is often accompanied by withdrawal from a community. As that process continues, you might often only think of yourself. Seeing life through the lens of loneliness is a cycle that must be broken.
The Events calendar on this website provides myriad opportunities for you to connect with others in your community and break social isolation.