It is not news that as people age, America seems to forget about them. As a society, we seem to have come to believe that nursing homes and retirement communities are the way to “warehouse” older people, instead of integrating them into the social fabric. I have personally seen how lonely it can be for some people to age, and those living with HIV, in particular.
In my experience and through conversations with friends of the baby boomer generation, being HIV positive heightens the sense of isolation and feeling unwanted. Our society values youth and beauty, and aging with HIV can often mean that both of these things fail, and fail to a degree that HIV negative people do not typically experience. For those who became positive at the beginning of the epidemic, they remember the effects of the earliest HIV “medication” AZT, an abandoned cancer drug so toxic that it killed faster than the natural progression of AIDS. These experiments and subsequent trials have taken their toll on the bodies of many of my older friends. The changes in medication through the decades are often visible. Baby boomers are rarely the focus of ad campaigns, perhaps, in part, because society forgets that older people still have sex and are still becoming HIV positive. This is something we need to change.
I believe that many younger people do not want to be reminded of this bygone era or learn about the reality of new infections in older people. We typically do not seek to understand the horrific and traumatic experiences through which survivors have lived. All of these survivors saw so many friends die and yet, somehow, they managed to stay alive. Sometimes, it saddens me to think about the sacrifices HIV positive baby boomers have made…so that they can live, and so that that I can live a healthy life. It can be a painful truth to share, but we must share it in a healthy and affirming way so that they are not forgotten. We need to remember our history, and remember the people who lived it.
While the reality of living with HIV has changed drastically for the better, what baby boomers have given in life, in blood, in tears and through activism is why we have made such huge strides in medicine and care today. I believe that we, the younger generations, need to actively find ways to befriend and support older generations. Not only is it the right thing to do, but one day if we are so fortunate, we will be older people who need a friend, someone to listen, someone who cares and someone on whom we can count to help us when we need it most.