Three decades after the first diagnoses of AIDS, symptoms of premature aging have appeared in patients who were once afraid they would never live long enough to see signs of old age. Lisa Leff of Associated Press reported that San Francisco has 9,734 AIDS cases, and half of these are in people over 50 years old. “It's like you are a 50-year-old in an 80-year-old body”, according to Peter Greene, a travel agent who has survived 25 years of HIV infection.
Dr. Malcolm John, who directs the University of California at San Francisco's HIV clinic, explained that patients' immune systems are gradually weakened even when they are successfully treated with anti-retroviral drugs. HIV appears to accelerate the development of disorders such as memory loss, arthritis, renal failure and high blood pressure. The patients may have been genetically or environmentally predisposed to these problems, but HIV is associated with appearance of aging issues in patients in their 40s and 50s.
Dr. Lauren Malaspina and colleagues in The HIV Neurobehavioral Research Programs (HNRP) Group performed a study of cognitive function in older HIV-infected individuals. These authors noted that more than one quarter of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are over the age of 50.
Malaspina and coauthors defined successful cognitive aging (SCA) as the absence of neurocognitive deficits, determined by a series of tests. These researchers tested 74 HIV-infected individuals with a mean age of 51 years, and a mean estimated duration of infection of 17 years. The results indicated that only 32 percent of this sample had successful cognitive aging. This is comparable to results from studies of much older individuals without HIV infection. The researchers found no correlation between SCA and demographic composition, HIV disease severity, treatment factors, other illnesses, or history of substance abuse.