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Older people with HIV enter uncharted territory

Health and social care providers need training to meet the needs of over 50s with HIV.
Stigma_HIV

Health and social care providers need training to meet the needs of over 50s with HIV

One in three people with HIV in the UK is over 50, representing part of the fastest growing group of people living with HIV.

These findings may shock some people, including those who work in health and social care. Only 20 years ago HIV shortened lives, but thanks to advances in treatment the first generation of people with HIV are living into older age. This is positive news, but it creates new challenges.

A report by Terrence Higgins Trust, Uncharted Territory , describes what it means to be part of the first generation to grow older with

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Health and social care providers need training to meet the needs of over 50s with HIV

Stigma_HIV
Many older people with HIV experience social stigma. Picture: iStock

One in three people with HIV in the UK is over 50, representing part of the fastest growing group of people living with HIV.

These findings may shock some people, including those who work in health and social care. Only 20 years ago HIV shortened lives, but thanks to advances in treatment the first generation of people with HIV are living into older age. This is positive news, but it creates new challenges.

A report by Terrence Higgins Trust, Uncharted Territory, describes what it means to be part of the first generation to grow older with HIV.

More than four in five (82%) of over 50s with HIV are concerned about access to future social care. One quarter of respondents said no one would help them if they needed support with daily tasks, while 88% said they have made no financial plans for their future care needs. Meanwhile, 82% said they experience moderate-to-high levels of loneliness – three times that of the general population – and six in ten said they live below the poverty line.  

Unfair treatment

The report also describes how older people with HIV have been turned away from care homes or treated unfairly.

One woman with HIV living in a care home was encouraged to spend as much time as possible in her room to avoid contact with other residents. When she did leave her room, she was allowed to sit on only one chair and the television remote was cleaned with antibacterial wipes after she had used it. This is shocking.

As the population of older people with HIV grows, more will require support and care. This means that a major shift in HIV awareness is needed.

We at the the Terrence Higgins Trust are calling for HIV and ageing to be a mandatory part of all training, induction and development for social care workers and GPs. This would ensure health and social care professionals have the knowledge, skills and training to understand the needs of people growing old with HIV, and that they feel confident in supporting them.

Support and advice

In this context, we have launched a pioneering project called Health, Wealth and Happiness for Over 50s Living with HIV. As well as supporting people with HIV, we provide training and support for health and social care providers to ensure they have up-to-date knowledge of HIV, understand the needs of older people with the condition, and know where to go for further support, information and advice.

We still face uncertainties. We do not know what the effect of taking anti-retroviral therapy for decades will be. Nor do we know how HIV will interact with other conditions associated with old age.

But we do know that the time for action is now. We know change is coming and we must get ready to support people with HIV to live well in later life. This means ensuring our GPs, care homes and support staff are equipped with up-to-date information and support.

We have come a long way with HIV in the past 30 years, but older people are now entering uncharted territory and we must support them on their journey.

Summaries of the Terrence Higgins Trust report and project are available here.


About the author

Liz_porter

Liz Porter is director of clinical services at the Terrence Higgins Trust

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