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HIV/AIDS Patients Face Aging Issues

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AIDS / HIV related image Photo: Getty Images

Three decades after the first diagnoses of AIDS, symptoms of premature aging have appeared in patients who were once afraid they would never live long enough to see signs of old age. Lisa Leff of Associated Press reported that San Francisco has 9,734 AIDS cases, and half of these are in people over 50 years old. “It's like you are a 50-year-old in an 80-year-old body”, according to Peter Greene, a travel agent who has survived 25 years of HIV infection.

Dr. Malcolm John, who directs the University of California at San Francisco's HIV clinic, explained that patients' immune systems are gradually weakened even when they are successfully treated with anti-retroviral drugs. HIV appears to accelerate the development of disorders such as memory loss, arthritis, renal failure and high blood pressure. The patients may have been genetically or environmentally predisposed to these problems, but HIV is associated with appearance of aging issues in patients in their 40s and 50s.

Dr. Lauren Malaspina and colleagues in The HIV Neurobehavioral Research Programs (HNRP) Group performed a study of cognitive function in older HIV-infected individuals. These authors noted that more than one quarter of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are over the age of 50.

Malaspina and coauthors defined successful cognitive aging (SCA) as the absence of neurocognitive deficits, determined by a series of tests. These researchers tested 74 HIV-infected individuals with a mean age of 51 years, and a mean estimated duration of infection of 17 years. The results indicated that only 32 percent of this sample had successful cognitive aging. This is comparable to results from studies of much older individuals without HIV infection. The researchers found no correlation between SCA and demographic composition, HIV disease severity, treatment factors, other illnesses, or history of substance abuse.

“The most consistent finding from this study,” Malaspina reported, “was that SCA was associated with a variety of beneficial everyday functioning outcomes.” The SCA group had better medication adherence, lower rates of decline in activities of daily living (self-reported), lower lifetime rates of depression, and superior abilities to deal with health care providers. Malaspina recommended further research to prevent early cognitive decline in HIV/AIDS patients.


1. Lisa Leff, “Long-term HIV survivors face age-related problems early”, Austin American-Statesman, June 13, 2011.

2. Malaspina L et al, “Successful cognitive aging in persons living with HIV infection”, Journal of Neurovirology 2011; 17: 110-19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21165783.

Reviewed June 28, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

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