Depression and social isolation threaten successful aging of people living with HIV

UC Riverside-led study calls for giving more patient-centered care to this population

September 24, 2019
Author: Iqbal Pittalwala
September 24, 2019

A study that compares aging among older people living with HIV to those without HIV has found that depression and social isolation are factors that threaten successful aging in the former group.
Because of advances in antiretroviral therapy, HIV is now manageable, allowing people to live up to 50 years post-diagnosis. As a result, nearly 300,000 people with HIV are age 55 or older in the country.

Brandon Brown

“Among older people living with HIV, depression often results from feeling isolated, having no social support, and experiencing grief from having lost friends to AIDS,” said Brandon Brown, an associate professor in the Center for Healthy Communities in the UC Riverside School of Medicine who led the study. “This depression threatens successful aging. We found community involvement and volunteering was a protective factor against social isolation.”
Participants — who ended up being mostly white, male, and college-educated — were recruited in Palm Springs, home to one of the biggest populations of older people living with HIV in the country. The researchers gathered data via a 28-question self-administered paper survey. Data collected include demographics, HIV status, sexual activity, physical health, discrimination, feelings of isolation, infectious and non-infectious disease history, and geriatric syndromes. All 110 participants — 62 with HIV and 48 without HIV — were at least 55 years of age.
“We found that compared to those without HIV, people living with HIV had significantly higher reports of depression, receiving disability benefits, and living alone,” Brown said. “Providers need to give patient-centered care people living with HIV, such as screening for depression, directing patients to community-support organizations, and responding to their problems that immediately threaten their successful aging.”
The study, publishing in AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, was supported by a UCR seed grant. Brown was joined in the study by researchers at UCR, Johns Hopkins University, UC Irvine, Borrego Community Health Foundation, and HIV + Aging Research Project-Palm Springs.