HIV Population Grows Older, Diseases of Aging a New Dilemma
"It's our legacy and responsibility
at UC to be leaders in research and caring for people with
HIV." -- Dr. Brad Hare, medical director, UCSF Positive
By Andy Evangelista
Old age doesn't creep slowly on Lou Grosso like it does on
other 57-year-olds. Signs of aging bombard him.
Grosso has high cholesterol and plaque in his arteries, his
joints hurt and his memory is not as sharp as it used to be.
But the aches of aging don't deter the San Francisco native
from enjoying his life, which includes building web sites
and white-water rafting.
After all, when he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, doctors
didn't think he'd live past age 35.
Thanks to better treatments and powerful medicines, HIV is
now often manageable and not the killer it was two decades
ago. People infected with HIV are living longer, but doctors
are finding that many in this group are showing signs of premature
or accelerated aging.
"I know I'm getting older," said Grosso, who also
copes with blindness not related to HIV infection. "So
is that why I have the aches and pains and memory issues?
Or is it because I have been taking all those antiretroviral
drug cocktails that have been keeping me alive all these years?
I never thought I would live this long to ask these questions."
Scientists are trying to determine if these ailments are a
result of HIV ravaging body organs and the immune system over
the long haul, side effects of the potent therapies or a combination
"Conditions that you might normally see in patients in
their 60s or 70s are showing up in HIV patients who are only
in their 40s and 50s," said Dr. Brad Hare, Grosso's doctor
and medical director of the UCSF Positive Health Program at
San Francisco General Hospital.
The longer life expectancy of those infected with HIV presents
a new challenge for patients and health care providers: keeping
the AIDS-causing virus in check and at the same time battling
high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, bone
loss, arthritis and cognitive decline.
A grant the California HIV/AIDS Research Program of the University
of California awarded in December will provide funds to develop
and evaluate programs that integrate HIV and geriatric services
for HIV/AIDS patients who are 50 and older. Researchers at
the San Francisco Department of Public Health and UCSF received
a three-year grant to study new models of care and offer best-practice
guidelines for treating HIV and aging throughout California.
The efforts are timely and urgent. In the U.S., more than
1 million people today are living with HIV, and that number
is growing. The AIDS Community Research Initiative of America,
which presented study findings at a White House meeting on
HIV and aging last fall, projects that half of all people
living with HIV will be over age 50 by 2015. It also surveyed
1,000 HIV-positive men and women and found that 91 percent
are also battling chronic medical conditions associated with
At his clinic, which serves 3,000 people with HIV, the average
age of patients is 46, said Hare, a co-investigator in the
new research project. "We're seeing from other UC research
-- at the clinical and molecular level -- that the immune
systems of people with HIV look older than non-infected people
of the same age."
Dr. Malcolm John, director of 360: The Positive Care Center
at UCSF, began noticing trends of accelerated aging, especially
cardiovascular diseases, among his older HIV patients a few
years ago. "We've had patients with mild hypertension
or lipid abnormalities -- nothing ragingly bad -- who develop
angina and heart problems quickly," said John, who also
is an investigator in the new UC study aimed at finding the
best ways to treat older HIV patients.
And it's not just heart disease. John tells of a patient who
was diagnosed with a massive lung tumor even though his previous
visits and tests showed that the cancer was tiny and confined.
Clinicians are seeing diseases in multiple body organs, osteoporosis
and even early signs of Alzheimer's in people with HIV. When
John noticed the phenomena, he gathered physicians and researchers
to study the link between HIV and aging, and 360-UCSF started
a program for people over 50 with HIV.
The new project funded by the California HIV/AIDS Research
Program could speed solutions for health care systems that
soon may be burdened by a growing and aging population of
HIV patients with special needs. The study will build and
assess programs based on the "Patient-Centered Medical
Home" model of care, which is a community-based system
of coordinated care, treatment, prevention and support services.
The new research project, said John, will integrate geriatric
specialists who offer a different perspective than infectious
disease experts, identify which and when screenings tests
should be conducted to monitor for diseases of aging, and
bring in nutritionists and pharmacists as essential members
of the care team.
Patients are prescribed a variety of drugs to combat HIV,
and with many now taking more medicines for other chronic
conditions, adherence to drug regimens and watching for side
effects are critical. Grosso, for example, takes 10 pills
in the morning and another three at night for HIV, high cholesterol
and pain in his joints.
UCSF's Hare adds that services in the new programs will address
more than the
physical aspects of HIV disease and aging, with plans to include
psychologists and social support staff.
"Just on the psychology side, a lot of patients suffer
from depression," he said. "Many have seen friends
and peers die over the years. The majority of people with
HIV live alone and many are poor. Adding the troubles that
go with aging can be tough."
UC programs, such as those directed by Hare and John, already
are touted as models for comprehensive care for HIV/AIDS patients
in general, and they hope those developed for older people
with HIV will, too, set standards in the state and the nation.
"It's our legacy and responsibility at UC to be leaders
in research and caring for people with HIV," said Hare.
Andy Evangelista is the research coordinator for the UC
Office of the President Strategic Communications Department.
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