The United States is one of the few countries in the world with a large number of senior adults living with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, older adults aged 55 and above accounted for 26 percent (319,900) of the estimated 1.2 million people living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in the country. Older Americans are more likely than their younger counterparts to be diagnosed with HIV infection at a later stage, resulting in increased suffering and excessive immune-system damage. One of the reasons for such late diagnosis is that health care providers usually do not consider it important to test older people for HIV infection. Besides, elderly people may not consider themselves vulnerable to HIV infection or can confuse its symptoms with those of the natural aging process.
Experts say aging with HIV gives rise to a wide range of biomedical complexities. Increased rates of co-existing disorders are some of the larger chronic biomedical problems, which plague older adults grappling with the infection. Notably, chronic HIV-driven inflammation in an aging brain may cause cognitive impairment in long-term HIV patients. Although with the advent of modern medicines such as antiretrovirals (ARVs), HIV has become a more or less manageable condition, studies show that older patients lose the ability to metabolize ARVs that could lead to increased levels of toxicity in the system.
Significantly, prolonged exposure to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) may heighten the vulnerability of older patients to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Additionally, older adults with HIV are at greater risk of developing cancer as compared to the general population. Therefore, the fear of a deteriorating immune system coupled with the stigma and shame associated with HIV is known to affect the mental health of older patients, leading to chronic depression. In the wake of the plight of senior Americans with HIV, the National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day is observed each year on September 18, to call attention to the challenges that older people face in terms of HIV prevention, testing, care and treatment.
Depression is common among HIV patients
Depression is one of the most commonly observed mental disorders among individuals diagnosed with HIV. Studies show that HIV patients stand a 50-50 chance of developing depression. As depression can have an adverse impact on one’s mind, body and behavior, if left undiagnosed in people struggling with HIV infection, it can have detrimental consequences. Such patients are known to neglect their routine medication schedules, skip appointments with doctors, indulge in risky sexual behavior and develop suicidal tendencies.
According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 16.2 million people aged 18 or older had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Notably, these numbers include elderly people battling HIV infection. Although a good deal of research on depression has pushed mental health specialists to throw some light on the repetitive and serious nature of such a condition, unfortunately, most general practitioners tend not to treat the disorder in the same manner as other serious physical health illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. Experts recommend managing mental problems on the same lines as in the case of other serious physical health conditions, which demand timely check-ups and educating the patient and family members about the disorder.
Seeking professional help
Sovereign Health of San Clemente, California, offers a variety of customized mental health services to treat the afflicted individuals holistically. Specialists at our mental illness treatment centers are trained to identify the underlying causes and prescribe customized individual as well as group psychotherapy based on the patient’s requirements. Additionally, patients can also opt for alternative therapeutic activities to embark on the journey to wellness.
If you or your loved one is grappling with depression or any other mental disorder, call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives. Our world-class mental health treatment facilities spread across California are known for their effective recovery programs, which have helped innumerable individuals regain control of their lives.