The U.S. AIDS population is aging, and a gap in care that meets older HIV-positive adults' needs often means those over 50 are going without valuable support and coping skills. But Project Empower, a study conducted by Ohio University health psychologist Timothy Heckman and colleagues, is evaluating whether telephone support groups can help older adults cope with their illness.
AIDS support groups in Ohio, Arizona, New York and Pennsylvania recruited about 70 participants for the study, which was funded by a two-year $435,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging. The study was designed to evaluate group therapy and its effect on older adults who have AIDS and depression. In the study, small groups met with a social worker for 12 conference calls, each lasting about one hour.
"The older adults who went through the intervention said they felt they could cope better," said Heckman. They also reported feeling less stress, and some said they looked forward to the therapy, he added. Heckman presented his findings Saturday at the National Association on HIV Over Fifty conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Older adults face the challenge of coping with HIV/AIDS alongside mental, physical and social changes that accompany aging, explained Heckman. And many support groups are geared toward younger people. "I think as the newer medications have evolved, we're seeing people live longer periods of time. It's a population that's growing," said Heckman.
The phone therapy program tends to appeal to those living in remote areas, those wishing to remain anonymous, and those unable to drive to counseling. Topics including stress management, coping, aging and support are discussed, leaving room for people to address specific needs, said Lori Brown, a social worker and group moderator. "People tell us that it is effective for them," said Brown. "They aren't even able to talk about their issues sometimes with their own family."
Meanwhile, Heckman hopes those in the study will continue to use the skills they learned. "We're still following our participants to see if these changes are maintained," he noted.