People with HIV are growing old—and society isn’t ready for it

Susan Gallagher

The good news is that people with HIV are living much longer than they used to; it’s estimated that by 2020, 70 percent of people living with HIV in the United States will be age 50 and older, compared to 10 percent during the first 20 years of the epidemic. The bad news? With this longevity come challenges that our healthcare system isn’t prepared to address. “When I began my career as a nurse in the late 1980s, HIV was pretty much a death sentence,” says Michael Relf, a professor of nursing and global health. “People living with HIV were told, ‘We’ll keep you as healthy as possible, but you need to get your affairs in order.’” But when combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) was introduced in the mid-1990s, the outlook for these individuals went from bleak to bright. And over time, as ART has become increasingly effective with fewer harmful side effects, the odds of longer survival continue to improve, necessitating a new focus on healthy aging for people living with HIV.

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