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Queerty: Most people with HIV in the US are over 50 – here’s why that matters

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Most people living with HIV in the US are now aged over 50, and the figure is only set to rise. The CDC says just over 50% of those with HIV are over 50, but by 2030, that figure may climb to 70%.

This is largely a testament to the success of anti-retroviral medication. People diagnosed with HIV are dying in far fewer numbers.

Therefore, it makes sense that people diagnosed in their 30s or 40s in the last couple of decades are now more likely to still be around but are now in the 50+ age bracket.

What it does not mean is that HIV is only an older person’s problem.

Queerty recently reported on the latest CDC HIV infection figures. Its figures for 2021 showed a significant drop from 2019, with PrEP playing a major role in that decrease.

About two-thirds of new HIV infections in 2021 were among gay and bisexual men. By age, most (9,100) of those were among 25- to 34-year-olds; followed by 13- to 24-year-olds (4,900); and 35- to 44-year-olds (4,000).

Around 8,000 of the diagnoses were in people aged 45 or over.

Around one in eight people in the US don’t know they have HIV. Some studies suggest older gay men are less likely to get tested for HIV regularly.

“We need more research”

Although meds are keeping people with the virus living long and healthy lives, more research needs to be undertaken to determine the impact of HIV on older individuals. That’s the belief of gerontologist Michael Pessman, writing in Next Avenue.

“HIV care and research face new challenges,” he says. “Older people living with HIV also have an increased risk of dementia, osteoporosis, frailty and some cancers. They also may be more likely to fall. It’s common for older adults with HIV to experience mental illness, especially depression and addiction, and they tend to be more isolated.

“As the population ages, we need more research into HIV and aging to improve their care and treatment.”

The Biden administration remains committed to trying to end HIV transmission by 2030. Most advocates think it remains an optimistic goal. The CDC says that health inequalities remain a huge hurdle. HIV still disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic gay and bi men.

With the focus on ending HIV transmission, research into the challenges experienced by those already living with HIV is often overlooked.

HIV and accelerated aging

A study published last year found that HIV infection has an “early and substantial” impact on the aging process.

The researchers found this negative impact took hold within the first 2-3 years of infection. Even on treatment, those living with the virus could lose up to five years of their lifespan, they warned. The average drop in lifespan was between 1-3 years. It was worse if an individual went for a longer period before receiving their diagnosis.

The study looked at the DNA and specific markers of aging. It wanted to explore why some long-term HIV survivors experienced higher rates of heart disease and other health conditions. People with HIV are also disproportionately impacted by anal cancer.


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The study’s authors concluded that the best way for HIV-positive people to stay healthy was to work with their clinicians to stay virally suppressed and to follow a healthy lifestyle (quitting smoking, etc).

“Additional research is required to better understand the mechanisms behind accelerated aging in HIV-positive individuals and to develop interventions to slow down or reverse this process,” adds Pessman.

He believes that studying how HIV impacts aging may have the added benefit of increasing our understanding of the aging process as a whole. That could benefit everyone.

Of course, such research requires finance. Pessman concludes, “Funding for research in this area should be prioritized.”


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