Ageing with HIV
Ageing can be a positive process where our life experiences help us to develop and become more secure in ourselves. Many older people lead healthy, active and exciting lives, and living with HIV should not impact on this.
Over time, our bodies gradually lose strength, although we now know the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and exercising as we age. This means that older people now lead healthier, longer lives than in previous generations.
As we age our immune systems make less of the specific T cells needed to respond to new infections and develop immunity after a vaccination. This is why it can generally be harder for older people to recover from illnesses and why they may not develop protection after an immunisation.
Research shows that HIV causes the immune system to age faster than it should, meaning that younger people with HIV can have 'older' immune systems. This is because the virus causes the immune system to become inflamed and also due to the effects it has on some of the T-cells.
Because of this there has been a rise in the number of younger HIV positive people having with 'age-related' diseases and health problems such as cancers, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of older people living with HIV experiencing age-related diseases.
Although no-one can stop the ageing process, we can make changes to our lifestyles which will help keep our bodies stronger and healthier into old age. These include stopping smoking, exercising more and improving our diets, as well as managing our HIV well.
Living with HIV can be an added complication as we age, but improving our general health can prepare our bodies for a happy, healthy older age.