Older HIV Individuals Face Serious Financial and Emotional Hardships

Older HIV Individuals Face Serious Financial and Emotional Hardships

Old­er peo­ple liv­ing with HIV tend to be lone­ly and depressed, often fac­ing seri­ous finan­cial hard­ships and no hous­ing. They may also suf­fer from numer­ous phys­i­cal health prob­lems like dia­betes, fatigue, chron­ic pain and heart disease. 

While this has been com­mon knowl­edge, still there is a lack of ser­vices to meet the need. 

About two-thirds of San Francisco’s HIV pop­u­la­tion is 50 and old­er. The major­i­ty of them were infect­ed with HIV at least 20 years ago. These are known as long-term sur­vivors – peo­ple infect­ed before drugs were devel­oped to treat the dis­ease, and the ill­ness was deemed a death sen­tence. Although they’ve been using the drugs, many of the sur­vivors face a new chal­lenge – ones that include both phys­i­cal and emotional. 

A recent­ly released sur­vey of 200 par­tic­i­pants shows there is a huge prob­lem with the needs of old­er HIV adults not being met:

  • Over 60 per­cent suf­fered from some sort of men­tal health prob­lem such as anx­i­ety or depression. 
  • About 70 per­cent of them have post-trau­mat­ic stress disorder. 
  • About 50 per­cent suf­fer from neu­ropa­thy, which is a nerve pain HIV caus­es or its ear­li­er drugs cause. 
  • 56 per­cent of peo­ple have severe fatigue 
  • 14 of them don’t have the mon­ey they need to cov­er expenses. 
  • Sev­en per­cent have no per­ma­nent residence. 
  • Half of the respon­dents don’t have enough food. 
  • 15 per­cent they don’t have any type of emo­tion­al support.

It’s not that big of a sur­prise to find the get­ting old­er prob­lem­at­ic for HIV indi­vid­u­als, as they didn’t they get to that age. Some days are great but oth­er days… not so much.

There are about 6,000 long-term HIV sur­vivors in the San Fran­cis­co area. They, along with the new­ly infect­ed HIV old­er adults, com­prise most of the city’s mod­ern HIV epi­dem­ic. It’s unfor­tu­nate that too many non­prof­it agen­cies, infec­tious dis­ease experts, pub­lic health offi­cials and doc­tors see the dis­ease as affect­ing the young the most.

On top of that, most resources go toward pre­ven­tion and ear­ly treatment.

Despite the real­i­ty that old­er HIV indi­vid­u­als have needs too, there are not as many ser­vices for them. There are spe­cial­ty pro­grams that help old­er HIV-infect­ed indi­vid­u­als. For exam­ple, Crisostomo’s group has grown to around 70 peo­ple at every Wednes­day meet­ing. Ward 86, the HIV depart­ment of the city’s Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal – added a geri­atric clin­ic for San Francisco’s old­er population.

Non­prof­it groups found­ed dur­ing the worst of the epi­dem­ic have added in bud­dy sys­tems, spe­cial nutri­tion pro­grams and more. Some old­er HIV indi­vid­u­als are impressed by the ser­vices they can receive.

Vic McManus, 56, came to San Fran­cis­co and joined the 50-Plus group at Crisos­to­mo. He said there are a pletho­ra of resources in San Fran­cis­co unlike where he moved from in Cal­i­for­nia. He said in San Fran­cis­co he can thrive and find the help he needs.

Peo­ple work­ing with agen­cies that were designed to help HIV-infect­ed indi­vid­u­als are con­cerned there’s not enough help out there to assist the old­er pop­u­la­tion. For exam­ple, the San Fran­cis­co Mod­el of Care is an agency set up dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s and is unable to keep up with the num­ber of HIV-infect­ed indi­vid­u­als. Project Open Hand offers free meals and gro­ceries to HIV-infect­ed peo­ple for over 30 years.

Project Open Hand’s chief exec­u­tive Mark Ryle said over 90 per­cent of his group’s HIV clients are 50 and old­er. Despite doing every­thing it can to help these indi­vid­u­als, he knows the long-term sur­vivor com­mu­ni­ty feels left out.

Ryle said these indi­vid­u­als have fall­en through the cracks.

San Fran­cis­co Gen­er­al has a geri­atric clin­ic known as Gold­en Com­pass, which is designed to stop the grow­ing cap in old­er HIV care. How­ev­er, it’s one clin­ic, and the thou­sands of HIV indi­vid­u­als in the city look­ing for help may not get the assis­tance they need.

Gold­en Com­pass was set up to help peo­ple with more than just phys­i­cal prob­lems. It’s also sup­posed to help them with stress, addic­tion, iso­la­tion, etc. How­ev­er, there is only so much that can be helped with their hous­ing and finan­cial situation.

In the Crisostomo’s 50-Plus group, peo­ple are talk­ing about how they can bare­ly afford to live in San Fran­cis­co but can’t leave either as oth­er places don’t have the kinds of resources this city does.


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