One in three people living with HIV in the UK are over the age of 50.
Older people are the fastest growing group of people in the UK with HIV. One in three people living with HIV in the UK are over the age of 50. That number is set to double in the next five years.
HIV is no longer the deadly disease it once was thanks to antiretroviral drugs, introduced in 1996, that can control the virus enabling people with HIV to now live a normal lifespan. As this is the first generation ageing with HIV, there is still much that we do not know.
But there is also another worrying trend. In 2004, 609 people aged 50 and over were diagnosed with HIV in the UK. In 2014, that number had doubled to 1151 people. This ties in with an increase in the number of diagnosed STIs in this age group, suggesting that older people are enjoying better sex lives with more partners. However, this group can also be poorly informed about the risks of unsafe sex, and may think it doesn’t apply to them.
My role at Terrence Higgins Trust is to raise awareness and manage our Health Wealth and Happiness project which supports over 50s living with HIV. In collaboration with The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Age UK, we conducted a study in 2010 looking at the needs and concerns of older people with HIV. What we found was that there are certain key issues which particularly affect them, including the fact that they may be more isolated than younger people with the infection who have the support of their close peer group, perhaps benefiting from easy access to social networks.
Older people can often feel ‘invisible’
In many communities, including that of the LGBTQ, older people can feel ‘invisible’ and the scene tends to be focused on clubbing and dating.
We organise social activities and support groups where people can get together for excursions and trips out. For example, we organise regular visits to the British Museum and our Bristol group has organised walking trips around the Arboretum. They just want to feel ‘normal’ and forget their HIV status for a while.
The study, 50 Plus, also found that older people living with HIV are financially disadvantaged compared to their peers.
Struggling to make ends meet can be very stressful for older people with HIV. They may have cashed in pensions when they thought they had a terminal illness, or been out of the workforce for a long time. One of our most popular services is the advice clinic for people who need help with their housing, benefits or welfare rights. A proportion of older people with HIV are currently receiving disability allowance and are quite worried about what the changes to the welfare system will mean for them. Some have already been told that their benefits will be cut or that they will have to pay the so-called bedroom tax for an extra room in their flat where they have lived for decades.
We welcome everyone who is facing older age with HIV and can work with health and social care professionals to help them meet the needs of this unique and growing population.