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Stress and Isolation Take Toll on Those Under 50 With HIV: Older People Fare Better

November 21, 2013

This article was reported by Science Codex.

Science Codex reports a study showing that HIV-infected persons younger than age 50 experienced more isolation and stress than older HIV-infected individuals. Between 2011 and 2012, Allison Webel, PhD, RN, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio, and colleagues studied 102 men and women from HIV-related clinics, service organizations, and a registry of HIV-infected persons. The study examined associations between stress, age, and social isolation. The average participant was low-income, 48 years old, African American, and had managed their disease for almost 14 years. Participants were ages 18-64 years and were divided into two groups of individuals -- younger than 50 and older than 50.

Findings indicated that participants younger than 50 felt more separation from family and friends than the older group. Stigma was a large part of the problem. The older participants were less stressed and had created social networks for support. The results contradicted previous research that suggested older people with HIV had limited and fragile relationships with friends. Webel also found that many older patients who had been HIV-positive for a longer time were willing to assist younger patients with managing their illness. Participants felt 30-40 percent more stress than uninfected individuals and women were more stressed than men. Researchers attributed the women's stress to the additional pressures of single-motherhood, poverty, and low-wage jobs.

Researchers suggested intervention with multiple approaches from healthcare, social services, and counseling to help younger HIV-infected persons cope with disease-related stress and social isolation.

The full report, "Age, Stress, and Isolation in Older Adults Living with HIV," was published online in the journal AIDS Care (2013; doi: 10.1080/09540121.2013.845288).

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