by Jim Maurer, Park House Manager
The “look” of HIV has been changing throughout the 30-plus years that we have been confronted with this disease in the U.S. It has gone from being perceived as a scary illness, killing young gay men, to becoming a chronic illness that can affect any human. It is that chronic nature of the illness that we are dealing with currently. Park House, an achievement center for adults living with HIV/AIDS and mental illnesses, offering psycho-social daytime programming, opened on World AIDS Day, December 1, 1996. Park House opened as a daytime respite center for individuals too ill to be at home alone all day. It was in 1996 that advanced anti-retroviral treatments to fight HIV/AIDS came on the market. The deadly nature of the disease was quickly reversed.
Soon, we were seriously talking about people living with HIV/AIDS and not dying. There was no longer a need for respite care. Park House staff was witnessing a dramatically positive change in the physical health of our clients. We were, however, seeing a serious issue with our clients’ mental and emotional health and switched our services to mental health care delivery. We were dealing with isolation, depression, substance abuse and other persistent mental illnesses. Park House continues to provide mental health support to our clients empowering them to live independently by maintaining adherence to their medication regimens and working toward self-defined goals aimed at self-motivation and personal growth.
Currently, 58% of Park House clients are over the age of 50. By 2015, it is expected that 50% of HIV infected people will be aged 50 and over. Based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV/AIDS surveillance categories, persons aged 50 and over who are infected with HIV are deemed to be older adults.
50 years of age is considered “older” because:
– HIV infection may “accelerate” the aging process
– Evidence of earlier onset of age-related disease states
– HIV is associated with non-AIDS comorbidities such as diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease, depression, non-AIDS cancers and so forth
– Complex cases of cognitive impairment associated with chronic, HIV-driven inflammation of the aging brain
Park House clients have been dealing with what we term the “early aging” effects of HIV for some time. Many Park House clients also live with diabetes, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, diminished brain functioning, and more. These added complications can result from the advancement of the HIV disease in their systems and possibly as side effects of some of their medications. At any rate, these conditions impose physical restrictions as well as adding to our clients’ emotional stress.
Park House staff work diligently to offer programming that teaches and encourages the clients to maintain healthy, active lifestyles that will help them to cope with their physical stresses. Exercise, nutrition, smoking cessation, creative arts, spirituality, and writing are all promoted as effective strategies to maintain physical and mental health.
Park House clients are above 90% compliant with their HIV medication regimens and most clients maintain an undetectable viral level. This is excellent for their own long-term health and, by all standards, means that they pose a very low risk of passing the virus on to other persons.
Living long term with HIV, however, continues to present emotional stressors including ongoing concern about long-term health issues, ability to continue independent living, and confronting HIV-related stigma.
What seems to work best for Park House clients is staying involved in the community and just staying active overall. Establishing short- and long-term goals for themselves is a part of the Park House program. Each day they attend Park House, they specify a goal that they are working to achieve. They are deciding each day to live well with HIV.
There are opportunities for available for “older” individuals living with HIV/AIDS to participate in a wide variety of social activities with their families, through their faith communities, with their friends and certainly through the various HIV/AIDS service organizations that offer a wide spectrum of things in which they can get engaged.
One of the “Positive Pedalers” on the recently completed 12th Red Ribbon Ride just turned 50. He has been an avid AIDS rider on many, many AIDS rides around the country. He rides to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to raise funds to support AIDS services. I am guessing he also rides to maintain his own physical and mental health and I am confident he will be doing AIDS rides until there is no longer a need to fight AIDS.
Park House was founded in 1996 and is one of only six programs in the U.S. providing day health services for people with HIV/AIDS. Find more information at www.allinahealth.org/ahs/anw.nsf/page/park_house_home