In 2014, people aged 55+ accounted for 17% of Americans living with a diagnosed HIV infection.
Even if this age group has the same risk factors as young people, they might be less aware of them – especially since most awareness campaigns don’t target older adults. Most of the time, they don’t think HIV is an issue for them and may be less likely to protect themselves. That’s why it’s older Americans that are most likely to learn about their HIV infection later in the course of their disease. As a result, they start the treatment late and might suffer from more damage to their immune system.
These are the basic facts every caregiver should know before starting to provide care for senior patients with a diagnosed HIV infection.
However, that’s not everything. Here are 4 critical tips for caregivers of senior HIV patients.
Be aware of the stigma
Patients diagnosed with HIV often face social stigma and might be suffering from lack of support from others in their circle of family and friends who in turn might lack knowledge about HIV. Older people might already feel isolated because of their illness or loss of friends and family.
Social stigma might affect their self-image and quality of life. It often discourages these patients from seeking care or disclosing their status to others. Adults diagnosed with HIV are 5 times more likely to experience depression and be at risk of suicide than HIV-negative adults.
HIV and aging
Aging with HIV infection is challenging because the disease increases the risks that come with aging: particular cancers, thin bones, or cardiovascular disease.
That’s why care providers should make sure to maximize their efforts to prevent these conditions and look for signs of illness early on. Caregivers should also pay attention to the potential interactions between medication used to treat HIV and those used by the patient to treat common age-related conditions such as obesity, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, or hypertension.
Antiretroviral treatment allows patients diagnosed with HIV to achieve a near-normal life expectancy. However, senior patients are more vulnerable to infections and illnesses because of their age. Caregivers should minimize their exposure to common illnesses such as the flu that could bring about complications (like pneumonia) for patients with a compromised immune system.
Research the disease
Caregivers should educate themselves about HIV and AIDS. Knowing how the HIV infection is spread is a helpful measure against social stigma. Caregivers should also know how an HIV infection develops and when it might lead to the patient developing AIDS. Being aware of what different treatment regimens entail is helpful as well.
Follow these rules while providing care
Caregivers who provide care to senior patients diagnosed with HIV should know how the infection is spread and what they can do to prevent it.
Here are some tips on how to prevent the spread of HIV infection while taking care of a diagnosed patient:
- Always wear vinyl or latex gloves if you might have contact with bodily fluids or blood from a person infected with HIV. Wear such gloves when cleaning articles soiled with vomit, feces or urine to avoid infection with other germs. Remember to wash your hands after any contact with blood, even if you wore gloves.
- Flush all liquid waste that contains the patient’s blood down the toilet.
- Items that aren’t flushable (sanitary pads, paper towels, wound dressings) need to be placed in a plastic bag. Close the bag securely before throwing it out. Remember to check in with your local health department about the disposal of such items.
- Cover all breaks, cuts or sores in your exposed skin.
- Wash all clothing and linens together – those worn by the patient don’t need to be separated.
- Dishes used by the patient don’t need to be separated and can be cleaned using regular methods.
- Be positive!
Follow these 4 tips and you’ll be on your way to providing top-quality care to a senior patient who has been diagnosed with an HIV infection.
David Beeshaw is a staunch advocate of regular exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle. He is also a writer at raTrust, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those at risk of STIs and HIV. Verify raTrust on BizDb.