The past three decades have dramatically improved what it means for a person to be HIV-positive. Once viewed as a death sentence, today there are millions of people continuing to live long and rich lives in spite of their infection. With the latest medical breakthroughs, more people than ever before in history are surviving a HIV diagnosis well into their golden years.
But it’s not all good news. Approximately one-third of those suffering from HIV and AIDS are at least 50 years old. To make matters more complicated, the fact that the elderly are liable to suffer from a comorbid illness can make managing HIV that much more difficult. Thankfully, there are many simple things you can do to help provide non-medical care for seniors with AIDS and ensure that your loved one can continue to lead a happy and healthy life in the face of this illness.
Patients of Antiretroviral Therapy
The most common form of AIDS care for seniors is antiretroviral therapy (ART). Unfortunately, the adverse effects and complications of ART are more likely to occur in elderly patients. For this reason, it’s particularly important for your loved one’s physician to keep a close eye on cardiovascular, bone, kidney, and liver health while using antiretroviral therapy as treatment.
Furthermore, it’s important for family caregivers to understand that AIDS can actually have a biological effect on the speed of the aging process, which can lead to clinical syndromes that are typically associated with much older individuals manifest. Although comorbidity can make successful treatment more difficult, having the right approach can make the problem substantially more manageable.
Protection for Family Caregivers
Many family caregivers may be reluctant to work with HIV patients for fear of contracting the disease. This is largely a matter of hysteria. The risks of transmission are very low because transmission of HIV is almost entirely restricted to sexual contact, blood transfusion, and intravenous drug use. Human saliva isn’t a viable form of transmission, and neither is any other form of everyday casual contact. Nevertheless, it’s important for anyone who provides AIDS care to use protective barriers anytime they may come into contact with the bodily fluid. This protection includes gloves, masks, and protective eyewear as needed to ensure that those fluids do not pose a risk to your health. If you need clarification on any of this contact your physician.
Promoting Adherence to Treatment
Adherence to a physician prescribed treatment regimen is necessary for suppressing HIV, improving overall health, and maximizing the quality of life for your loved ones. The most common cause of failed treatment is non-adherence. Common reasons for failing to stick to planned treatment include depression, failing to understand treatment instructions, complicated dosing, cognitive impairment, and even the cost and availability of medicine.
It’s important to root out risks to adherence before they’re allowed to cause treatment failure.
With many diseases, it’s possible to resume drug treatment even after adherence has been broken. With HIV, this failure to adhere can lead to the body building drug resistance, and ultimately a decrease in treatment options. To make matters worse, it’s been proven that simpler treatment regimens are statistically more successful than those with more steps to take, more pills to take, and so on. In short, breaking with your treatment plan can actually make it more difficult to have successful treatment in the future.
Self-Reporting and Adherence Aids
Obviously, this means that it’s paramount for you as the family caregiver to ensure that your loved one understands how to use their medication correctly, and to follow up with them about their adherence on a regular basis. Many people find that adherence is easier with the help of tools like a daily calendar or a pillbox. Whenever asking your loved one about adherence, don’t ask if they’re using their medicine. Instead, consider asking how many doses they missed over a specific period of time. If they seem to be having trouble, check in with their physician to see what options are available.
Additionally, simple behavioral modifications can go a long ways towards ensuring successful treatment. Creating positive habits, like taking medications at fixed times or events during the day, can help ensure long-term adherence. With a little vigilance and the right familial support to ensure adherence to a program, elderly HIV non-medical in-home care can be a safe and effective way to manage this very serious disease.
Have you been a family caregiver for a loved one with AIDS? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.