Support networks for older HIV patients’ are crucial says study

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LGBTQ Health Rainbow with nurse and doctor
LGBTQ Health Rainbow

Social support nourishes quality of life for many older HIV patients by easing HIV stigma, reducing stress, and depression. A new study led by Dr. Kristen Krause at Rutgers looked into this and published in AIDS Cares their findings. They examined the social connections of older people living with HIV in Newark. “It is an area frequently overlooked in research focusing on this demographic,” said a press release from Rutgers Health. The study, can be accesed here.

Krause is an instructor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “This study helps us understand how support networks affect older adults living with HIV and how stigma and fragmented relationships can ultimately make way for negative health outcomes,” she said.

Susannah C. Gervolino, Perry N. Halkitis, and Krause conducted interviews with 40 participants, aged 51–69 years, living with HIV in the Newark metropolitan area. Through the process of analysis, four main themes were found in the role of social support: friends and relationships; support; stigma and discrimination; and family. 

Authors from the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies within the Rutgers School of Public Health also added to this study. They showed that stigma against HIV decreases, and so does stress, anxiety, and depression levels among older people living with HIV.

“Social support is a key component of resilience and overcoming challenging obstacles that older adults living with HIV may face,” said Krause. “Social support can come in many forms, such as friendships, family relationships, and support groups. They all serve unique and collective purposes to ensure good health outcomes in older people living with HIV.”

Krause says that she thinks the research needs to be expanded. Krause sees an additional need for increased funding to build intervention and programs to foster social support. Especially, “since not all older adults living with HIV have easy access to such support and resources,” said the release. 

With that said, research by SAGE shows that LGBTQ elders are twice as likely to be alone and single into older age. Additionally, 53% of the 1.1 million people living with diagnosed HIV in the US were over the age of 50, according to the latest (2021) data from the CDC

Today, the LGBTQ elder population is bigger than ever before. That’s why Krause wants to shift how we mind the needs of elders in Newark and other large cities like New York and San Francisco. 

“It is important for researchers and public health practitioners to work together to develop programs that can help facilitate consistent and affirming interactions for older adults living with HIV,” said Krause. “This will help so many people improve their overall quality of life and support positive health outcomes.”