POSTED: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 - 1:04pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:25pm
Older people with HIV are aging faster and researchers aren't sure why...
Thanks to a powerful combination of drugs, HIV is for the most part a chronic, but treatable condition. But while those drugs help people live longer, it appears people with HIV are aging faster.
Stu Smith has lived with HIV since the early '80's and living with the virus for him means living with a huge list of medications.
39 to be exact.
Stu says "I take heart medications, I take liver, I can't even remember, actually I carry a list."
The meds help keep him active. But at 69, he says he often times feels older, much older.
Stu says "Today I feel like I'm a hundred."
In addition to living with HIV, he's also feeling the effects of premature aging.
Stu says "that's a direct result of what they first called brittle bone disease, it was a simple break. On a good day I can walk fifty feet, without sitting down and holding onto something. My memory is a mess and it's embarassing because sometimes I can't remember what I forgot."
Dr. Brad Hare, the medical director of the Positive Health Program at San Francisco General, and a leading aids researcher says early aging is a big concern.
Dr. Hare says "definitely patients are experiencing some of these complications and I think that's really paramount in how we think about HIV now, we're not just managing a virus, we're managing complications of it."
But is it the medications or HIV itself causing early aging related complications?
Unfortunately, there's no clear answer.
Dr. Hare says "so I think it's really a combination of both the virus, primarily the virus interacting with the immune system and also contributions to medications."
For Smith, he doesn't really care what caused his early aging. He's just happy to be here now.
Stu says "lots of research gave me a life beyond what anybody thought I'd have."
And that's what keeps him going now, decades after he thought he was given a death sentence.
There are no hard studies on the percent of HIV+ people who suffer from early aging symptoms.
However, researchers we talked to say it is one of the most common problems especially for HIV patients who are 50 and older.