Older people living with HIV tend to be lonely and depressed, often facing serious financial hardships and no housing. They may also suffer from numerous physical health problems like diabetes, fatigue, chronic pain and heart disease.
While this has been common knowledge, still there is a lack of services to meet the need.
About two-thirds of San Francisco’s HIV population is 50 and older. The majority of them were infected with HIV at least 20 years ago. These are known as long-term survivors – people infected before drugs were developed to treat the disease, and the illness was deemed a death sentence. Although they’ve been using the drugs, many of the survivors face a new challenge – ones that include both physical and emotional.
A recently released survey of 200 participants shows there is a huge problem with the needs of older HIV adults not being met:
It’s not that big of a surprise to find the getting older problematic for HIV individuals, as they didn’t they get to that age. Some days are great but other days… not so much.
There are about 6,000 long-term HIV survivors in the San Francisco area. They, along with the newly infected HIV older adults, comprise most of the city’s modern HIV epidemic. It’s unfortunate that too many nonprofit agencies, infectious disease experts, public health officials and doctors see the disease as affecting the young the most.
On top of that, most resources go toward prevention and early treatment.
Despite the reality that older HIV individuals have needs too, there are not as many services for them. There are specialty programs that help older HIV-infected individuals. For example, Crisostomo’s group has grown to around 70 people at every Wednesday meeting. Ward 86, the HIV department of the city’s General Hospital – added a geriatric clinic for San Francisco’s older population.
Nonprofit groups founded during the worst of the epidemic have added in buddy systems, special nutrition programs and more. Some older HIV individuals are impressed by the services they can receive.
Vic McManus, 56, came to San Francisco and joined the 50-Plus group at Crisostomo. He said there are a plethora of resources in San Francisco unlike where he moved from in California. He said in San Francisco he can thrive and find the help he needs.
People working with agencies that were designed to help HIV-infected individuals are concerned there’s not enough help out there to assist the older population. For example, the San Francisco Model of Care is an agency set up during the 1980s and 1990s and is unable to keep up with the number of HIV-infected individuals. Project Open Hand offers free meals and groceries to HIV-infected people for over 30 years.
Project Open Hand’s chief executive Mark Ryle said over 90 percent of his group’s HIV clients are 50 and older. Despite doing everything it can to help these individuals, he knows the long-term survivor community feels left out.
Ryle said these individuals have fallen through the cracks.
San Francisco General has a geriatric clinic known as Golden Compass, which is designed to stop the growing cap in older HIV care. However, it’s one clinic, and the thousands of HIV individuals in the city looking for help may not get the assistance they need.
Golden Compass was set up to help people with more than just physical problems. It’s also supposed to help them with stress, addiction, isolation, etc. However, there is only so much that can be helped with their housing and financial situation.
In the Crisostomo’s 50-Plus group, people are talking about how they can barely afford to live in San Francisco but can’t leave either as other places don’t have the kinds of resources this city does.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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