Older HIV-infected adults face unique health challenges stemming from age-related changes to the body accelerated by HIV infection, the side effects of long-term treatment for HIV, the infection itself and often, treatments for age-associated illnesses. Sept. 18 marks the third annual National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, an opportunity to highlight these challenges and the research under way to improve the health and quality of life of older people infected with HIV.
Many HIV-infected individuals are living into their 50s and well beyond as a result of the powerful combinations of antiretroviral drugs that suppress the replication of the virus. In 2006, an estimated 25 percent of people living with HIV in the United States were age 50 years and older. In those with long-term HIV infection, the persistent activation of immune cells by the virus likely increases the susceptibility of these individuals to inflammation-induced diseases and diminishes their capacity to fight certain diseases. Coupled with the aging process, the extended exposure of these adults to both HIV and antiretroviral drugs appears to increase their risk of illness and death from cardiovascular, bone, kidney, liver and lung disease, as well as many cancers not associated directly with HIV infection.
In addition, a growing number of adults in their 40s and 50s with long-term HIV infection are experiencing syndromes that resemble premature aging. For instance, these individuals have a greater risk of impaired kidney function and end-stage renal disease than their HIV-uninfected counterparts. They also are three to four times more likely to develop osteoporosis, increasing their risk for bone fractures. In addition, 55-year-old HIV-infected men are as likely to be in frail condition as are men ages 65 years or older who do not have HIV.
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