In the 1980′s, growing old with HIV seemed like a fairytale, and the immediate goal of all HIV/AIDS research was to extend the lives of patients. However, with today’s antiretrovirals and other treatments, over half the HIV-infected population in the United States is over forty years old. It’s good news that those with this condition are living longer. However, the quality of life lived is compromised by the effects of HIV/AIDS. It is becoming apparent that accelerated aging with HIV can, in effect, add over ten years to the actual age of the patient. In 2010, this subject was address by multiple experts in RITA, a publication of The Center for AIDS Information and Advocacy. It appears that there is a stair-step effect from physical problems to emotional and cognitive problems.
Individuals infected with HIV have a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, broken bones, and other illnesses. This physical health risk can prevent what seems like a lifelong obstacle course laid out before patients who are dealing with physical issues that should be a decade or more away. With one challenge arising after another, discouragement, depression, and anxiety can diminish hardiness. Hardiness is basically the perception that difficulties are challenges to be fought rather than overwhelming obstacles which stop you in your tracks. Accelerated aging with HIV moves from physical to emotional and cognitive with the decline of hardiness.
Emotional and cognitive aging are entwined in the accelerated aging with HIV. Patients may find themselves forgetting things often or having to think through the steps to complete a task over again. One possible reason for this is a lack of healthy sleep patterns. Healthy sleep amounts and routines promote cognitive processing. Depression and anxiety, as well as sickness, undermine the ability to sleep, exacerbating cognitive problems. Fatigue, lack of social and/or cognitive stimulation can also contribute to the neurocognitive aging effect of HIV.
However, each person’s progress must be measured individually because a 50-year-old who has the heart of a 65-year-old is not necessarily infected with HIV. Other factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs, excessive weight, a sedentary lifestyle, and genetics also play a large part in aging both physically and mentally. These factors will also have an effect on the accelerated aging with HIV that infected patients experience. Experts recommend improve the overall lifestyle health, social interaction, and cognitive stimulation to combat the aging effects while scientists search for new ways to find a complete cure for HIV/AIDS.