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What to Know About Growing Older and Living With HIV

What to Know About Growing Older and Living With HIV

This article is for people living with HIV (PLWH) and their care partners, or anyone who wants to learn more about growing older and living with HIV. The goal of this patient education activity is to help PLWH engage in shared decision-making with their doctor about their overall health and wellness as they grow older.

You will learn about:

  • Living with HIV as a person age 50 or older

  • What to expect about your health and antiretroviral therapy (ART) as you grow older

  • Living with HIV and COVID-19

  • Getting the support you need and staying healthy

  • Questions to ask your doctor

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Living With HIV Is Different Today

Living with HIV has changed over the years. PLWH today are living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

Living with HIV is a serious, but very manageable, chronic (long term) condition. Because of increased awareness and advances in treatment, PLWH can expect to live about as long as people who do not have HIV.  

Many PLWH Are 50 and Older

Anyone can be diagnosed with HIV, including older people. Around half of PLWH in the United States are 50 and older.

Being diagnosed early, especially for older people, and getting and staying on effective HIV medicine -- ART -- can help keep the virus suppressed and help PLWH have a long and healthy life.

What to Expect About Your Health and Growing Older

PLWH can have the same medical concerns as other adults as they age, including chronic conditions, taking several medicines, and changes in physical and mental abilities.

But when it comes to certain age-related health conditions, even while taking effective ART, PLWH may:

  • Be more likely to develop them at a younger age

  • Have a greater risk of developing them

  • Develop them to a great extent

This may be due to changes in your immune system and chronic inflammation (swelling) that can happen as you age and be even greater in PLWH.

Age-Related Health Conditions and PLWH

Age-related health conditions that may be affected in PLWH can include:

  • Heart, kidney, or liver disease

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Certain cancers

  • Osteoporosis (bone thinning)

  • Problems with thinking, reasoning, or remembering

  • Menopause at an earlier age and with a greater likelihood for symptoms and risk for bone thinning

Your doctor may do more frequent checks on your metabolism; bone, kidney, heart, and liver health; and mental well-being as you grow older.

ART As You Grow Older

ART is recommended for all PLWH. For older PLWH, in addition to your individual needs, your doctor will also consider:

  • Other conditions you have or may develop

  • Possible interactions between ART and your other medicines

  • Changes that could affect your ability to think or remember, or make it harder to take ART and other medicines as directed

Some ART may also add to certain age-related conditions, such as high cholesterol or bone problems. Side effects from ART and other medicines may also happen more often.


We're learning more about COVID-19 daily. Right now, it's thought that PLWH taking effective ART have about the same risk for COVID-19 as people who do not have HIV.

Certain people, however, may be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. This includes older adults and people of any age who have a weakened immune system or certain conditions. The risk for PLWH getting very sick from COVID-19 is greatest if you have a low CD4 cell count and aren't taking effective ART.

Talk to your doctor about COVID-19 and ways to protect yourself. You can also ask about telemedicine and ways to keep your appointments and stay connected.

Getting the Right Support

An increased risk of depression, anxiety, and changes in mood can happen in older PLWH. Feeling stigmatized, isolated, and lonely may also happen.

But getting support -- talking to family, friends, or your doctor, or joining a support group -- can help. Looking after your mental well-being is important as extra stress can add to other health issues.

It's important for all PLWH to get the care and support they need. Services can be found through your doctor, your local community center, an HIV organization, or the HIV Services Locator website at the end of this activity.

Staying Healthy, Now and As You Grow Older

No one can avoid the effects of aging. But being aware of your overall health, talking to your doctor, and getting support can help you stay healthy.

Ways PLWH can help maintain a healthy lifestyle include:

  • Tell your doctor about all medicines you take -- including those you get without a prescription -- and supplements and vitamins

  • Take your ART and other medicines as directed

  • Keep your medical and blood work appointments

  • Quit smoking

  • Stay physically active, eat a balanced diet, and maintain a healthy weight

  • Get enough sleep

  • Avoid drug use and too much alcohol

  • Practice safer sex (such as condom use)

  • Develop coping strategies to reduce stress

  • Keep your brain active and stay socially connected

Gail talks about her personal journey and experiences with living with HIV while growing older.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor about living with HIV and growing older can include:

  • What should I know about how living with HIV can affect age-related conditions and my health?

  • Are there other doctors or specialists I should see?

  • Will I need any additional tests?

  • Which ART may be best for me?

  • Are there other medicines I should take, and what are their side effects?

  • What should I know about COVID-19, and how can I protect myself?

  • Are there any lifestyle changes I should make?

  • What should I do if I feel stressed or depressed?

  • Where can I find information for support or additional resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program: What to Know About Growing Older and Living With HIV.

View Additional Materials

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

HIV Services Locator

HIV and Older Americans

Aging With HIV

HIV, AIDS, and Older People

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Senior Director, Learning & Development, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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