Dr. Allison Webel, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. Her research focuses on HIV self-management and the social and behavioral determinants of co-morbid chronic disease in people living with HIV. The long-term goal of Dr. Webel’s research is to improve the health and wellness of all people living with HIV with chronic co-existing conditions.
Living with HIV
Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States and 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year. Thanks to treatment advances, people living with HIV can and do live long and full lives which has led to the healthy, aging HIV patient.
There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is the development of effective, simple anti-HIV medications can be taken once a day. These medications are redefining what it means to live a healthy life with HIV. Today, people living with HIV are going to college, working, volunteering, getting married and having children. They are not only having children, they also have grandchildren. One-quarter of people living with HIV in the United States are 55 or older.
Yet even with effective treatment, HIV is now a risk factor for secondary illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease and bone diseases like osteoporosis. Our work is focused on how to improve lifestyle behaviors in people living with HIV and the effects of these behaviors on these secondary illnesses.
For example, in my research on older adults living with HIV, we found they want to engage in activities that would minimize the risk of these health conditions, like exercise or eating a healthy diet, but that it can be hard to do when balancing their HIV-related self-management work, such as medical and laboratory appointments, tracking symptoms and taking medication. Yet, exercise and diet are rarely addressed in HIV primary care visits, missing a great opportunity to evaluate and encourage these behaviors. New work is needed to test strategies to improve and sustain health-promoting behaviors, tailored to the needs of older adults living with HIV. Given the increase in illness and health conditions in this population, the need for these kinds of interventions is vital.