Older HIV patients 'need more support'

Man in his 50s Around a quarter of the 100,000 people with HIV in the UK are over 50

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The older generation of people with HIV need better support to keep them well, nurses say.

About a quarter of the 100,000 people with HIV in the UK are aged over 50.

Two-thirds of these are on treatment for other long-term conditions - twice the rate for the general population, Terrence Higgins Trust data shows.

The charity and the Royal College of Nursing said this "silent generation" of older HIV patients need better co-ordinated care to stay healthy.

The issue is set to be debated at the Royal College of Nursing conference which is being held in Liverpool this week.

With people living for longer with HIV thanks to advances in treatment, nurses have reported they are seeing more patients with the condition seek help for conditions associated with old age.

Jo Josh was diagnosed with HIV in her 50s, as Jane Dreaper reports.

'Better co-ordinated'

HIV

  • Is a virus which attacks the body's immune system
  • Came to prominence in the 1980s
  • More than 90% of people with HIV in the UK were infected through sexual contact
  • It can also be passed on by sharing infected needles or syringes
  • There is no vaccine or cure however treatment is so advanced that it is no longer seen as a death sentence
  • For someone diagnosed with HIV today at 35 (the average age of diagnosis in the UK) life expectancy is over 72
  • The most common symptoms, usually occurring about 10 days after infection, are fever, rash and a severe sore throat all occurring together. This is rare in healthy people.

RCN public health forum chairman Jason Warriner said: "For the first time, we have a generation of older people living with HIV and having to cope with the ageing process.

"They have respiratory problems, diabetes and heart disease. That is proving challenging. You have to be careful about drug interactions and other complications.

"Nurses need more training and we need to ensure patients are not getting passed around from health professional to health professional. Their care needs to be better co-ordinated."

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust charity, said: "As the people living with HIV in this country grow older, many of them will face a number of related health issues.

"They will be looking to healthcare staff to treat their condition sensibly and sensitively. Nurses have a central role to play in this, to ensure that people with HIV are not just living longer but living well, and receive the care they deserve."

Stigma

Maurice Greenham was diagnosed with HIV in 1984.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said there was still a stigma about having HIV.

"It's getting better because it's being talked about," he said.

"I'm fortunate. I feel comfortable with my diagnosis and I'm out as a gay man living with HIV and very few people of my generation do feel comfortable talking about HIV and indeed going to support groups."

Maurice Greenham Maurice Greenham: "Very few people of my generation feel comfortable talking about HIV"

Dr Mark Lawton, a sexual health consultant at Royal Liverpool Hospital, said there was some data which suggested that some people who worked in care homes had a negative attitude, and also that there was an "overwhelming lack of knowledge and understanding".

"There are still problems - people not getting tested because they don't think they're at risk of getting HIV and HIV doesn't discriminate and we shouldn't," he added.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "It's unacceptable that people diagnosed with HIV should face any form of stigma, discrimination or prejudice.

"Older people diagnosed with HIV should be able to access any additional health and social care services they need to ensure they can live independent and fulfilled lives."

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