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What is “successful ageing” for people living with HIV?
Roger Pebody, 2017-08-26 09:20:00

When Canadian researchers asked HIV-positive people over the age of 50 how they would define “successful ageing”, six key themes emerged – accepting limitations, staying positive, maintaining social support, taking responsibility, living a healthy lifestyle, and engaging in meaningful activities.

Writing in the International Journal of STD & AIDS, Patricia Solomon and colleagues note the emphasis on individual control. Clinicians and service providers should work with people living with HIV to understand their values and aspirations and help them identify their personal goals, the researchers say.

In relation to the general population, there are numerous definitions and models of successful ageing. For example, some authors have said it has three components: avoidance of disease, maintenance of cognitive and physical function, and social engagement. However the concerns and priorities of people with HIV may be different. The experience of stigma and discrimination may mean that social isolation is a particular concern. Having already dealt with health issues over many years, people with HIV have different feelings about their physical health.

For a qualitative study on HIV, ageing and disability, researchers in Ontario, Canada conducted a series of in-depth interviews with older adults living with HIV. Each person was interviewed on four separate occasions, over an 18 month period.

The 24 interviewees were aged between 50 and 73, with a mean age of 57. Fourteen were male and 10 were female. The length of time since their HIV diagnoses ranged from 6 to 30 years, with a mean of 18 years. While three-quarters had an undetectable viral load, three-quarters also reported that they experienced at least six “bothersome” symptoms. Only one in five was employed and incomes tended to be low.

At the end of the fourth interview, participants were asked how they would define successful ageing and to reflect on whether they considered themselves to be ageing successfully. The six key themes that emerged are described below.