Understanding Aged Care: It’s a Tough Road for Seniors living with HIV

By on the Friday, November 15, 2013

Seniors living with HIV are still suffering from a lack of education among professionals in the aged care industry, according to a recent forum dedicated to the issue which ran in New Farm, Queensland.

The forum addressed the impact that HIV has on people who are ageing, with studies showing that conditions associated with ageing including cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardio vascular, kidney and liver disease are more common in a 55 year old living with HIV than a 75 year old living without HIV.

Representatives from service providers, HIV peer support groups, academics, LGBTI representatives and ACAT teams among others, were present at the event to discuss this serious issue.

Matt* a guest speaker at the forum was diagnosed with HIV in the 1990’s, yet still finds a lack of education among people working in the aged care industry.

“A lot of the cleaners (in a nursing home) wanted to know which residents were HIV positive so they could ‘take precaution’… that just blows my mind in this day and age… Why don’t they want to know who has tuberculosis? That’s more infectious than HIV.”

Matt said that many health care workers do not realise how quickly the HIV virus dies outside of the body, and that our aged care health system does not accommodate for the best way to treat and support people living with the disease.

“Unlike most illnesses, you can’t just tick the boxes. HIV is a changing dynamic illness, you have long periods of good health and then you can be really sick… What you need one month may not be what is needed another, infections or periods of illness can be sporadic, acute or chronic… How will they (aged care workers) keep responding to that?”

Matt said that the aged care industry not only had to respond to the fluidity of treating HIV, but also the social support that elderly people living with HIV require.

“A lot of people living with HIV may be estranged from their family, their ‘family’ are usually their friends. How is that going to play out when it comes to visiting? How is that going to work in an aged care setting?”

Merilyn Keene from Care Connect who was the event co-ordinator for the forum, wanted to stress that having HIV was not synonymous with being a person from LGBTI communities.

“We want to stress that HIV is one of many chronic illnesses that impair people’s functioning and result in early ageing” she said.

She said there was a need to develop overall knowledge and understanding of living with HIV by GPs, RNs and pharmacists as well as residential and community care providers and staff.

“This is a chronic manageable condition, not a death sentence” said Matt. “I got told I had HIV in the 90s and that there wasn’t a lot of time (to live) so I hung around for 20 years and it is only now that I am going to university.”

“HIV does not discriminate – people do.”

*Name has been changed as requested by the interviewee for confidentiality reasons.

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