HIV and Aging

It’s very good news that people with HIV are paying attention to issues around aging. It means treatment is effective and they are getting older like the rest of the population! It is estimated that up to 50 percent of people with HIV in Canada are now older than 50 years of age, and this proportion is expected to increase over the next decade. In addition, one in five new HIV diagnoses in Canada is in people over the age of 50.  

It’s inevitable that people with HIV will develop new health conditions as they age, just like everyone else. These can include immune system decline, kidney disease, cardiovascular (heart) disease, bone disorders, cancer, diabetes, and sexual health issues. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a symptom is due to HIV or aging, so people with HIV need to take good care of their general health, be proactive and pay close attention to changes in their bodies as they age. There are important screening tests to monitor your health as you get older; these include tests for diabetes, kidney function, bone density, blood pressure, cholesterol and various cancers. Ask your healthcare provider about which tests are recommended for you.

People with HIV have a higher rate of mental health disorders than the general population. These problems can become more pronounced as you age, with depression and anxiety being the most common conditions.  It’s very important to address any mental health challenges and get the support and treatment you need.

Older people living with HIV may also be at risk of developing HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorder (HAND); this is a spectrum of cognitive, motor and/or mood problems that affects up to 50 percent of older people with HIV in Canada (estimates vary). Symptoms include difficulty remembering, concentrating, performing calculations or completing basic tasks, but most people with HAND have very mild impairment. It’s important to speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you become aware of these symptoms.

To learn about HIV and aging, check out:

HIV and Aging – This looks at some of the issues that older adults with HIV might face and recommends ways to stay healthy—physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually.

For more on managing HIV and staying healthy as you age, visit:

POZ: HIV and Aging – This module from POZ magazine gives tips on staying healthy as you get older and covers some of the current research into HIV and aging.

Staying Healthy with HIV as you Age – This resource from the ACRIA (American Academy of HIV Medicine) and the American Geriatrics Society describes common health problems older HIV-positive adults face, and gives advice on how to tackle them.

To the Beat of Our Own Drum; African, Caribbean and Black Canadian Elders on HIV and Aging – This report by Realize summarizes their research into issues faced by older African, Caribbean and Black Canadians with HIV.

Specific health challenges for older people living with HIV:

Strengthening the Aging Brain (TreatmentUpdate 203)  

Traditional risk factors have a big impact on bone thinning in HIV-positive people (CATIE News, February 2020)

Exploring the impact of aging on the brains of HIV-positive and HIV-negative people (CATIE News, December 2019)

Managing medicines may become more difficult as some HIV-positive people age (CATIE News, February 2020)