When Canadian researchers interviewed HIV-positive people over the age of 50 and asked how they would define “successful ageing”, six key themes emerged:
- Accepting limitations – the interviewees talked about the importance of coming to terms with the realities of ageing and of not expecting to be able to have the same level of activity as when they were younger.
- Staying positive – for example, one man said, “Having a sunny disposition on life, don’t let things drive you down, don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s a big one. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
- Maintaining social support – remaining connected with friends, family and other people with HIV was recognised as an essential element of successful ageing.
- Taking responsibility – being involved in managing one’s own healthcare. One interviewee said, “We’re dealing with HIV and it’s not going to go away, so we have to be self-reliant and we have to be good managers of our health and our psyche so that we don’t fall into the doldrums.”
- Healthy lifestyle – eating healthily, abstaining from drugs and smoking, getting rest and sleeping well, minimising stress and regular exercise.
- Engaging in meaningful activities – these could be maintaining existing activities or finding new ones, including taking care of oneself, taking care of other people, volunteering or employment.
The researchers say that while healthcare professionals’ models of successful ageing tend to emphasise physical health and the absence of disease, their interviewees were less concerned about this – only one person mentioned living to an old age – and were much more concerned about the psychological and social aspects of getting older. As the interviewees felt it was particularly important to remain in control of their lives as they got older, doctors should take care to understand the goals and priorities of each of their patients.