Raising Awareness of Aging Adults with HIV

Margaret Dunne

Over the past 17 years, the proportion of people living with HIV age 50 and older has more than doubled—jumping from 29% in 2005 to nearly 70% in 2022. The dramatic increase in this population, resulting from both treatment advances and new HIV infections, energizes the need for more data on these individuals, says Westat Research Associate Margaret Dunne, M.Sc.

In commemoration of National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, on September 18, 2022, Ms. Dunne explains why now is the time for more research to identify the specific needs of adults aged 50 years and older to better understand the relationship between HIV and aging.

Q: What are some concerns associated with HIV and aging adults?

A: People aged 50 and older can contract HIV in the same ways that younger individuals can. Some older individuals may not use condoms during sexual activity as often if they are not concerned about pregnancy. Also, older adults may view symptoms of HIV as the consequences of normal aging and are less likely to get tested, and some health care providers, not viewing older adults as being at risk for HIV, may not test for it. This results in older individuals getting diagnosed with HIV at later stages, increasing the likelihood of progression to AIDS.

Q: What are the most common comorbidities and causes of death among people living with HIV?

A: Cardiovascular disease and declining physical function are the most common conditions, matching those in adults without HIV. However, adults with HIV first experience these comorbidities about 5-10 years earlier than adults without HIV.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected this population?

A: COVID-19 has impacted people living with HIV both in terms of access to care for HIV and COVID-19 outcomes. As we know, a high proportion of people living with HIV are over 50, and older individuals are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. In addition, people who are not on treatment or who have an unsuppressed HIV viral load are at especially high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Q: What therapies are available for people living with HIV?

A: Today, there are 30+ therapies available for the treatment of HIV. Westat conducted a clinical trial for one therapy—a drug that blocks HIV from infecting certain immune cells while preserving normal immunological functions, and it was targeted for people infected with multidrug-resistant HIV-1 who had run out of treatment options. This treatment has given patients fresh hope.

Q: How does Westat envision addressing the needs of older people living with HIV?

A: Westat is well positioned to address the needs of older people living with HIV due to extensive experience conducting epidemiologic studies among aging populations. Westat manages the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across the Life Span Study, the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, and the Examining Diversity, Recruitment, and Retention in Aging Research Study. Involvement in these projects, combined with our recent work on COVID-19 in diverse populations, prepares us well to apply our experience to address the needs of older people living with HIV.

Learn more: National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day (PDF)

Westat is well positioned to address the needs of older people living with HIV due to extensive experience conducting epidemiologic studies among aging populations.

- Margaret Dunne, M.Sc., Research Associate, Public Health & Epidemiology

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