Being gay, growing old and staying fit and healthy can be tricky. Doing all of this while living with HIV can present its own unique set of challenges. Currently about 28 percent of people living with HIV are over 50, and by 2017, that number is expected to increase to 50 percent. The good news in all these numbers is that there will be more and more resources available for people aging with HIV, and if you are over 50 and living with HIV, you are not alone.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that HIV accelerates the aging process. It makes sense that if your body is fighting off a virus for many years, as well as consuming toxic medications, this will take its toll. Aging is inevitable, but the best way to maintain good health as you age is to keep well-informed and be an active participant in your health care. This means preventative care, regular exams and keeping informed about blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, cardiovascular health and hormone levels. Testosterone can have a major impact on energy, libido and muscle mass, so it’s essential to maintain healthy levels. Make sure to have your doctor monitor your testosterone level, and if it’s low, you can replace it with gels or injections.
Taking daily medications has become a standard part of living with HIV, and it’s important to understand what impact these medications have on your body. It’s not just the antivirals—it’s also meds for high blood pressure, cholesterol and depression. Communicating with your doctor about side effects and drug interactions will help keep you on top of any issues that arise.
I spoke with Nelson Vergel for some added insight on aging with HIV. Nelson has been living with HIV for over 25 years and is a leading HIV treatment advocate. He founded the Body Positive Wellness Center and also authored the book Testosterone: A Man’s Guide.
“What we know is that frequent exercise (resistance training and cardiovascular), keeping our testosterone and thyroid hormones in normal ranges and eating a high-fiber, plant-rich diet slow down many of the symptoms associated with aging,” Nelson shared.
He was frustrated by the lack of specific information for people aging while on antiretrovirals, so he created his own website, AgingWithHIV.org, which provides detailed information about healthy aging with HIV.
Mental health is just as important as physical health when aging, but it is often overlooked. Getting older in the LGBT community can mean confronting increased HIV stigma and a growing sense of invisibility and isolation. As gay men, we’ve had to endure a great many hardships in the past 30 years, and many of us have yet to fully process it. Working through one’s mental health issues with a professional or in a support group can be an excellent path to wellness.
Fostering a better sense of community can also be a great tactic for improving one’s mental health. There are plenty of dating and social networking sites to choose from, such as Poz Personals, Poz4PozLA.com or PozVibrations.com. Engaging with others who share a common experience can provide a great sense of strength and support.
Lastly, just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you have to give up sex. One of the biggest issues men over 50 encounter when living with HIV is a decrease in libido. The lack of a sex drive can be frustrating and depressing. I asked Nelson to leave us with five useful tips for maintaining a healthy libido so you can be over 50 with HIV and thrive.
1. Sleep well. Lack of good sleep can cause fatigue, decreases in libido and erectile malfunction.
2. Keep a healthy body weight. Exercise and eat right.
3. Ensure that total testosterone, thyroid and estradiol in your blood are normal. Ask your doctor to check the levels of these hormones if you have symptoms like fatigue, depression and lack of sex drive and mental focus.
4. Manage stress. Nothing zaps libido more than stress!
5. Be very aware of what medications you are taking. For instance, some blood pressure medications and antidepressants are more ‘libido-friendly’ than others.