Growing old with HIV: how to cope with ageing and those grey hairs you never thought you would have!

AUTHOR: Paul Thorn

Stock image posed by a model.

Time is the great equaliser. We are all subject to it whomever you are; however popular, talented, toned or gorgeous – whether you are HIV-positive or not. Ageing is a natural process and we have no choice but to accept it, no matter how many grey hairs we dye. How we choose to deal with it is the key.

HIV has seen changes of its own, namely that huge innovation in treatment means we can manage the virus into our older age, moving into unchartered territory. Experts are also predicting that many on treatment will live long and healthy lives.1 This is amazing, but it comes with new challenges to our physical health, emotional wellbeing and future happiness.

It is also well-documented that living with a long-term health condition can cause issues such as stigma, anxiety and depression2, which can be amplified alongside typical issues that come with ageing such as loneliness, independence when it comes to caring for yourself and isolation. Plus, no matter whether you’re a veteran or just setting sail on your HIV journey, your HIV diagnosis can throw you off course, leaving you feeling at sea without a compass. All in all, this isn’t a list of things to be thrilled about.

“…your HIV diagnosis can throw you off course, leaving you feeling at sea without a compass.”

But never fear, some guidance is here! Here are six tips that could help maintain and improve your emotional health when ageing with HIV. Whether you’re a spring chicken or a silver fox, getting started now is best, as I believe it’s the seeds we plant today that we harvest in the future as we get older.

• Be kind to yourself

Article author Paul Thorn

By this, I mean your ‘self-care’. Priorities are to take your medication, eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and treat yourself to something nice from time to time, however small. Make sure you are doing something every day which puts a smile on your face.

• Set yourself achievable goals

Try doing small but productive things at home – making a tiny change every day can have a huge impact over time (even if it is just clearing out a drawer, or throwing away that ugly pair of jeans you know you’re never going to wear). The more you do this, the easier it gets and the bigger the results.

• Being aware of your thinking

When our self-esteem is low we have the potential to be our own worst enemies – in fact, that little voice in your head might not be on your side that often. Being aware of your thinking is the first step to dealing with this. Many people have made real progress by participating in mindfulness classes, others from gentle or more challenging levels of exercise such as yoga (which has the added benefit of super flexibility!). Why not check what’s available in your area or online and try a few things out? Turn your inner dialogue into your number one fan instead of a hater.

• Getting some gratitude

Being grateful for what we do have in our lives can be so powerful. Writing a list of what you can be grateful for regularly can really shift your thinking to a better place. I do this daily and it works for me. Amongst other things this week, I’ve experienced gratitude for my home and having everything I need; that I made time for coffee with good friends; being warm and cosy in my new white linen duvet set at night when it’s raining. It might sound a bit cheesy, but each of those grey hairs is a gift I didn’t think I would get!

• Never be afraid to ask for what you need

Speak to a relevant professional or local HIV organisations to find out what they offer, and get stuck into on-line resources. Many such organisations know there are challenges posed when HIV and ageing pair up, and are adapting their services and what they offer in response. Get in touch with your local organisation and speak to them about your needs.

• Invest time in your friendships

My friends are so important to me and have got me through some of the hardest times in my life. I believe that a small, but strong core group of friends will endure. My advice is – be a good friend to others and you too will have good friends. But most of all, don’t forget to be a good friend to yourself.

For more information on how to look after your long-term health and happiness, head over to plan ahead for more information.

Paul Thorn is the author of HIV Happy. The second edition is out now.

references

  1. The Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration. Survival of HIV-positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013: a collaborative analysis of cohort studies. Lancet HIV. 2017 Aug;4(8): e349-e356. DOI: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30066-8. Epub 2017 May 10.
  2. Naylor, C. et al. Long-term conditions and mental health: the cost of co-morbidities. The King’s Fund. 2012. Available: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/field-publication-file/long-term-conditions-mental-health-cost-comorbidities-naylor-feb12.pdf [accessed April 2018]