In 2015 half of all HIV-positive adults in America will be age 50 or older. And while people with HIV are living longer, nearly on par with their peers in some cases, there’s been a “growing concern among patients and health care providers that this group is experiencing a premature or ‘accelerated aging’ process,” say the authors of a Duke University study.
At the 20th International AIDS Conference, Jules Levin, executive director of the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project, reported on the study, excerpts of which are available on HIV-age.org, a blog of the American Academy of HIV Medicine. The study came up with a disheartening conclusion: People with HIV are less mobile as they age, even when they’re on successful antiretroviral therapies, compared with their non-poz peers.
“The magnitude of differences observed may be associated with poorer health, more disabilities, longer hospital stays, and higher costs, thus warranting intervention,” the study authors warn.
The study evaluated both people with HIV and those without, all over 50, on several physical tests: an eight-foot walk to test gait speed; a 30-second chair stand (basically standing all the way up and down from a chair as many times as possible in 30 seconds); squeezing a dynamometer to measure grip strength (which is predictive of mortality); and a six-minute walk test (to measure aerobic endurance).
Even those with suppressed viral loads showed diminished physical performance versus their HIV-negative peers. In the eight-foot walk, for example, the usual gait speed of participants was slower than the walking speed needed to safely cross the street.
The study authors warn that health care providers for people over 50 should be aware of the premature aging process, despite not knowing exactly what causes it. Researchers must now find out if this accelerated aging is due to the virus itself, prolonged antiretroviral therapy, other comorbidities, or conditions and lifestyle issues that come with aging while being HIV-positive.