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Social networks provide crucial support for older adults living with HIV – study

Older people living with HIV often face stigma related to both their HIV status and age, which can impact their mental health and increase social isolation. Support from various sources such as community organizations, family and healthcare workers is crucial in mitigating these challenges, providing avenues for connection and motivation for self-care.

Having social support and strong social networks is vital to the health and well-being of older adults living with HIV.

This is according to a study – “The role of social support networks in a sample of older adults living with HIV: the GOLD studies” by Susannah C. Gervolino, Kristen D. Krause, and Perry N. Halkitis” – that was published in AIDS Care.

It is estimated that half of those who liv with HIV are at least 50 years old, which emphasizes “the importance of understanding social support dynamics for this population”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Studies have shown social support not only buffers against stigma but also reduces 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.”

For this study, researchers recruited 40 participants aged 51 to 69 through varied sampling methods within the Newark metropolitan area, including drag shows, pride events and medical facilities. Data collection involved semi-structured interviews covering topics such as participants’ personal experiences with HIV, social networks and mental health.

From the gathered data, four main themes emerged regarding participants’ experiences living with HIV as older individuals: friends and relationships, support groups, stigma and discrimination, and family, all of which highlighted the recurring role of social support.

“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.”

Looking ahead, Krause said there is a necessity for further research tailored to this population, advocating for increased funding and the development of interventions and programs that foster social support through reliable and positive experiences, since not all older adults living with HIV have easy access to such support and resources.

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