by Doug Hamilton -
SGN Contributing Writer
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Surveillance Report, 24% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in the U.S. are among people 50 years of age or older. Perhaps Viagra is to blame? Or is it that, after the end of a long term-relationship or loss of a loved one, the rules that applied around safer sex for the last three decades do not seem to apply?
Whatever the reason, the uptick in HIV infections for those over 50 is part of a trend, which has HIV/AIDS researchers paying attention. Harborview's Dr. Sheila Dunaway, MD gave a presentation on April 22 at the ACTU (AIDS Clinical Trials Unit) conference room attended by about 20 people who showed up to hear her speak at a seminar titled, '...When I'm 64? Talking About the Research into Getting Older with HIV.'
Gay men who came of age in the 1980s remember when a diagnosis of HIV was equated with a death sentence from AIDS, and the only medication available was a toxic AZT cocktail. Now some of the older generation are aware of more benign and effective treatments such as Truvada, and are engaging in riskier behavior with less frequent HIV testing.
But for members of our youth obsessed culture who slavishly work to maintain muscled bodies, and slap on sunscreen to avoid wrinkles, that condom might want to stay part of a health and beauty regimen. The scientific explanation has to do with inflammation, a tool the body uses to fight infections. Fighting the HIV virus takes a toll on a cellular level, causing the DNA to unravel its molecular code more rapidly. The result is that people fighting a virus can look older than their age.
A bit of good news for the older generation taking HIV meds daily and more regularly than the young ones, is a better outcome controlling the disease, sparing the body the roller coaster of fluctuating viral loads, and lessening the opportunity for the aging effects of inflammation.
Harborview is currently planning a study to see if a low-dose regimen of aspirin may be effective in dealing with the aging consequences of fighting HIV. Low doses of aspirin are currently prescribed to treat high blood pressure.
According to the CDC, by the year 2015, 50% of those living with HIV will be 50+ years old. In a way, this is good news, since it indicates that people with HIV are living longer healthier lives with early detection and adherence to treatment for the virus. But as Dr. Dunaway indicated, the current crop of HIV medications can have side effects, which can result in a 10% more likely early death due to premature aging.
If you are taking meds for HIV, be sure to ask these questions at your next medical check-up:
? Am I at risk for osteoporosis? Osteoporosis (brittle bones) is a disease which is showing up in people as early as their 20s and 30s as a side-effect of anti-retroviral treatments. Ask if it possible to get a test for bone density or vitamin D levels. Vitamin D and calcium deficiency are key indicators you may be at risk for easily broken bones. A broken hip can have devastating consequences at any age. Steps you can take to avoid osteoporosis include consuming dairy products, drinking soy or almond milk with vitamin D and calcium, or taking supplements containing these nutrients.
? Am I at risk for diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar)? Ask the doc, 'What is my blood sugar level?'
? Am I at risk for cardiovascular disease (heart disease, hardened arteries, hypertension, or high blood pressure)? Ask your physician, 'What are my cholesterol levels? Is my blood pressure too high? Should I consider a low-dose aspirin regimen?'
Dr. Dunaway's advice for those wishing to live a long and healthy life (and look good while doing it) is to quit smoking, maintain a reasonable body weight, drink moderately, and realize you are never too old to talk to your physician about your sex life and HIV status.
If you do not know your HIV status and have had unprotected sex, get tested either through your doctor, or at someplace like Seattle's Gay City HIV/STD testing clinic, which offers free testing. Consider using the over-the-counter oral swab test Oraquick to get immediate results anonymously.
Find out your Hepatitis C status. Many people have no idea they carry it, and may not feel its devastating effects for decades. If you do not know, get the Hep C vaccine.
If you know you are likely to engage in unprotected sex, talk to your doctor about PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), an HIV prevention pill taken daily to reduce the risk of infection. Some insurance companies now cover PrEP. If yours does not, Washington state can make it available to you free of charge. Be aware the same side effects for HIV medications apply to PrEP. In fact, they are the same medication.
TO RECAP: People over 50 have sex, and are still at risk for HIV. Fighting HIV causes inflammation, which ages your body prematurely. To avoid early aging, avoid HIV and use condoms. Test regularly for early HIV detection and treatment. If you won't always use condoms for sex, consider PrEP. If you are HIV positive, take your meds regularly as prescribed, and be on the look out for their premature aging side effects such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Alright gorgeous, you are now ready to be sexy at 64!
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