Yes! It’s very possible for someone to have a long, healthy, and happy live with HIV. While many fear that having HIV means a shorter lifespan, modern treatments for HIV are effective enough that people living with HIV can live just as long, and just as well, as people who are HIV-negative.
Does living with HIV mean someone will die soon?
No. It’s common for people to worry about this, or to think that having HIV means someone will automatically live a shorter life because of their status. There are a few reasons why people might think this, but it’s important to know that it’s not true! Modern treatments can be very effective at managing HIV. This means that when someone who has HIV has access to regular healthcare, they can live just as long and healthy a life as someone who doesn’t have HIV.
HIV is a kind of health condition that’s sometimes called a chronic illness. That means it isn’t curable, and it doesn’t go away on it’s own. Instead, treatment helps the person who has it stay as healthy as possible, and manage any complications caused by their illness over time. HIV is not a terminal illness, which is an illness that is usually or always fatal, no matter the treatment.
How do people living with HIV stay healthy?
Like many people with chronic illnesses, people living with HIV (PLWHIV) have specific healthcare needs. This includes regular medication, called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. ART lowers the amount of the virus in someone’s blood. When someone takes ART regularly, they can have an undetectable viral load, which means they cannot give HIV to anyone, even through unprotected sex!
It’s also important for people living with HIV to have a strong immune system. That’s because HIV compromises the immune system, making it easier for people living with HIV to get sick from things like pneumonia, Covid-19, and even certain HIV-related cancers. Things like getting regular exercise, eating well, not smoking or drinking in excess, and managing stress can all help people living with HIV stay healthy overall!
Lots of people living with HIV also benefit from having a strong support network. This can involve family, friends, classmates and colleagues, and community at large! Having support from people around you can make any health issues easier to handle. So can having a sense of purpose in your day to day life, like being a great parent or working at a job you love. For people living with HIV, these are important ways of dealing with the stigma that can come with an HIV diagnosis. Mental health is just as important as physical health!
Everyone is different, so what’s “healthy” for some people living with HIV might look different from what’s “healthy” for others. And that’s okay! People living with HIV have the right to make decisions about their health just like everyone else.
HIV and aging
Older people with HIV may face different issues than younger people. This includes common health concerns that can come with aging, like age-related illnesses, reduced mobility, and changing social circumstances. Being an older adult with HIV can also come with a higher risk for isolation, loneliness, and stigma. These can have a big impact on someone’s mental and physical health!
However, older adults living with HIV are far from alone. In the United States, nearly half of people living with HIV are 50 years old or older. And, older adults make up about 17% of new HIV diagnoses. Older adults are more likely to be diagnosed when their disease is at a more advanced stage. But, they’re also more likely to follow a medication regimen carefully, and to eventually have an undetectable viral load!
It’s important to remember that older adults living with HIV are valued members of their communities. And, older and younger adults alike can benefit from listening to, respecting, and forming friendships with people of different ages! This is especially true for LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized groups.
PLWHIV: Deserving of community and support at any age!
Even though understanding of HIV has gotten better, and treatments have come a long way, living with HIV can still present challenges at any age. It’s common for people living with HIV to worry about getting older! Fortunately, there are lots of ways to connect with others and find community and support.
In Montreal, our parent organization ACCM has resources and support available for people of all ages living with HIV and/or Hep C. You can check our calendar of upcoming events for workshops, discussion groups, and other activities specifically for older adults! Maison Plein Coeur also offers resources for PLWHIV, including older adults, in French.
Gay and Grey Montreal is a mutual aid organization for 2SLGBTQ+ people over the age of 50. The Yellow Door holds intergenerational workshops, events, and other activities to keep elders in our communities connected and engaged. And for French-speaking older adults looking to volunteer or get involved in community organizing, Action Centre-Ville is a great place to start!