The population of individuals living into older age with HIV is increasing. It is estimated that within the next year, 50 percent of those living with HIV will be over the age of 50. These individuals have a multitude of experiences and unique conditions related to this disease. The increasing numbers of older adults with HIV are due to multiple causes; for instance, older adults who are living longer due to the advancement of antiviral drugs, lack education regarding HIV prevention and screening. Despite the growing number of older adults being diagnosed and living with HIV, research on HIV and aging has lagged behind. This is especially true regarding research investigating issues related to housing for older adults with HIV and AIDS, with some research about housing experiences for this group in the United States, but comparatively less in Canada. To address this gap in the literature, researchers explored the issue of housing in interviews with 11 older adults (52 to 67 years of age) living with HIV/AIDS in Ottawa, Ontario.
For this project, participants and data were pulled from a larger pilot study, which broadly addressed the health and social service experiences of older adults living with HIV/AIDS in Ottawa, Ontario. Participants in the larger study were recruited using recruitment flyers as well as case managers and programming coordinators from AIDS service organizations (ASO). The target group for sampling was 50 years and over and living with HIV. (50 years and over is consistent with HIV/AIDS research concerning older adults.) HIV status was through self-report. The study sample consisted of 11 adults (2 females and 9 males) with a mean age of 60. Eight of the participants had known they were HIV positive for 10 years or more, 3 had know within the last 5 years. Most of the participants (7) had learned of their diagnosis after the age of 45. Basic demographic data were collected from participants, who reported various housing statuses: 3 were living in rental units, 4 owned their own homes, 2 lived with family members, and 2 reported being homeless. Participants were each interviewed about their overall experiences of living with HIV and broadly about housing. Data were analyzed using thematic and content analysis. Participants were mostly white and half reported being homosexual, and all but one participant self-identified as being retired.
Several common themes emerged regarding housing for older adults with HIV/AIDS in Ottawa. These overarching themes reflected with participants’ concern about access to and acceptance into retirement homes and long-term care options. Additionally, themes reflected participants’ concern about access to subsidized housing in the city, and for those who were homeless, themes revealed worries about living in unhealthy conditions such as shelters or transitional spaces. Overall, equal access was an important theme for all participants. Access to housing facilities was a major concern for all of the participants. For example, one woman explained, “Right now, when we talk about housing services, we haven’t caught up with long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS . . . there’s still an awful lot of work to do and where are we going to go when we retire?” These thoughts illustrate the worry that the long-term care system in Canada is not prepared to support individuals with HIV/AIDS.
Participants also expressed worry about heterosexism and homophobia within the long-term care system. In sum, acceptance is an important factor to consider for providers and planners when considering the variety and complexity regarding all types of housing needs of older adults with HIV/AIDS. This study illustrates the housing issues and resultant barriers that are often faced by older adults with HIV/AIDS in Canada. While these findings are not intended to be generalizable to large-scale populations, the housing needs and worries articulated by these participants in this study are likely to reflect similar needs and concerns for individuals with HIV/AIDS in other contexts.
Overall, this study reflects that for older adults with HIV/AIDS in Canada, there remains confusion and anxiety regarding the availability of competent care and access to adequate housing options. Additionally, this study suggests that there is a general lack of recognition coupled with a social exclusion embedded in the age-related housing practices and policies in Canada. This study reinforces the need to increase visibility in policy, research, and practice-related activities for older adults living with HIV/AIDS. More research is needed to further examine how aging with HIV/AIDS intersects with housing and health. Furthermore, future work must address HIV-related stigma and ageism.