Living with HIV in later years

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Posted on 01 December 2011

A new study will explore the lives of older people living with HIV in the UK.

Led by Dr. Dana Rosenfeld, of Keele University’s School of Sociology and Criminology, Keele’s Centre for Social Gerontology and the Research Institute for Social Sciences, the multi-method interdisciplinary project, entitled ‘Experiencing and Managing HIV in Later Life’, will examine this group’s perceived stigma; mental health social support and quality of life; and experience and management of personal, medical and social dimensions of HIV.

Approved for funding of £211,316 over two years by the Medical Research Council’s Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) Cross-Council Programme and the Economic and Social Research Council, a team representing social science, medicine, psychology, epidemiology, and the HIV community, will come together to examine the relationships between these older persons’ personal, social and medical history and their social support, mental health, and quality of life. The research findings will inform suggested interventions designed to improve the social support, mental health, and quality of life of older people living with HIV.

It is estimated that by 2015, half of the people living with HIV in the West will be aged 50+. This rapidly ageing population is much more diverse than was the population of earlier years, with an increasingly high proportion of Black African and heterosexual persons. This population is further divided into those living with HIV for many years and those infected and/or diagnosed in later life.

Research has shown that older people living with HIV generally experience higher rates of mortality, illness and depression and that, unlike the uninfected, their depression rates do not decrease with age. This is probably due to their smaller and more fragile social support networks. But despite growing academic and medical concern with this ageing and increasingly diverse population, little is known about its members’ quality of life, mental health and social support needs, and about how their different histories and circumstances shape how they experience and manage HIV in later life.

To do this, the team will interview 10-15 stakeholders (including clinicians, policy makers and HIV activists), then interview 90 people living with HIV aged 50+ and gather mental health survey data from a further 140. To capture the diversity of the ageing HIV/AIDS population, the sample will include men who have sex with men, and Black and white heterosexual men and women. These will be recruited through HIV clinics in two London hospitals: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital (the biggest HIV clinic in Europe) and Homerton University Hospital.

In addition to Dr. Rosenfeld, the team includes Professor Jane Anderson, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; Dr. Damien Ridge, Westminster University; Dr. Jose Catalan and Dr. David Asboe, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital; Valerie Delpech, Health Protection Agency; and Dr. Genevieve Von Lob, Keele University. The team will be guided at all stages of research by a diverse advisory board led by Simon Collins of iBase, an HIV-treatment activist organisation, and will share its findings with the academic, clinical, and HIV communities. This will include and end-of-project conference in London.

The LLHW Funding Partners are: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Directorates, National Institute for Health Research /The Department of Health, The Health and Social Care Research & Development of the Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), and Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care, Welsh Assembly Government.