As the 40th anniversary of HIV/AIDS being first identified approaches in June, SAGE New Orleans is offering a free HIV support group to help people who are aging with HIV, an increasingly forgotten generation who lived through the most devastating years of the epidemic but often feel they have been left behind. Registration is open at HIVNOLA.org. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 13th.
The Aging Positively HIV support group will meet weekly from May through December. Meetings will initially take place on Zoom, and will eventually move to in-person gatherings. Licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Maison Vie New Orleans, Susan Harrington, will facilitate the group.
Over half of all people living with HIV in the United States are aged 50 and older. Many of these individuals may be dealing with feelings of grief and trauma, and are at high risk of inadequate medical and psychosocial support. They may also be reluctant to get the care and support they need, and some fear that disclosing their HIV status could result in further stigma.
“This is a crisis that most people aren’t talking about, and it needs to be addressed. That’s what we aim to do here,” Jim Meadows, Executive Director of SAGE New Orleans, said. “This free group will provide the support and resources needed for a large segment of the population who are feeling left behind. If you are out there and feeling cut off or forgotten, please know you are not alone, and we are here for you.”
Although they visit their doctors more frequently, people who are aging — and even their healthcare providers — may be reluctant to discuss sexual health. Older adults may feel embarrassed to discuss sex with their doctors (out of fear of judgment or mistreatment) or may mistake symptoms of HIV for those of normal aging. Additionally, many are unaware that U=U (“undetectable equals untransmittable”) meaning that people with undetectable HIV viral loads cannot transmit the HIV virus to others. Treatment of HIV with antiretroviral therapy prevents opportunistic infections and also prevents the transmission of the virus.
People who are aging with HIV face unique health risks. Both advanced age and HIV can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, lung disease (specifically chronic obstructive pulmonary edema), bone loss, and certain cancers. People aged 50 and older also need to be careful about interactions between medications used to treat HIV and those used to treat common age-related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and obesity.*
On June 5, 1981, the first cases of an illness subsequently defined as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) were reported by healthcare providers in California and the CDC.
The free support group offered by SAGE New Orleans will focus on helping people aged 50 and older in the New Orleans area who are aging with HIV. Group members will meet once a week, and, under the guidance of the lead therapist, be empowered to gain a sense of connection and community among others who have also struggled with the condition, especially during the devastating isolation created by the COVID pandemic. The group aims to help build strength and resilience through validation and understanding, while addressing a variety of shared issues, using process-oriented discussion and evidence-based therapeutic interventions.
Those interested in this free HIV support group can sign up at HIVNOLA.org. For more information about this group, or about SAGE New Orleans, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call (504) 517-2345, or visit sageneworleans.org.
About SAGE New Orleans
SAGE New Orleans hosts socialization/educational events for LGBT older adults and works to increase the cultural competency of healthcare and other service providers through training and workshops. As advocates on behalf of the LGBT older adult community, SAGE New Orleans is committed to ensuring that all LGBT older adults can live their best lives with the dignity, respect, and good health that they deserve.