Senior Program of the Month - November: HIV Long-Term Survivors Discussion Group

HIV concerns are changing rapidly. The crisis today is much different than it was in the height of the 1980s, or even just five years ago. Awareness and education campaigns have decreased the stigma attached to the disease. No longer considered the “gay plague,” there has been a sustained growth in recognition of and resources for the treatment and prevention among at risk groups including prison populations, those who use intravenous drugs and the transgender community.  Clinically, new pre-exposure treatments can reduce the chance of contraction while increased understanding and availability of antiretroviral drugs can drastically increase the length and quality of life for those who do. 

A result of improved treatments, there is a growing group of survivors who are seniors, having managed the disease for 20 years and counting. The Yale Medical School projected that by as early at 2017, over 50% of all people living in the U.S. with HIV or AIDS will be 50 years of age and older.  Despite the growing number of seniors living with HIV/AIDS, discussions around the disease often maintain a youthful slant. Seniors living with HIV/AIDS, who were so often ostracized in the 1980 and 1990s, maintain those feelings of isolation as they go, largely invisible, through a unique set of challenges from decades of the disease compounded with the effects of aging.

To address the needs of this growing group Greenwich House’s Judith C. White Senior Center has created a new discussion group for long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS to address the specific issues faced by those who have lived with the disease for over 20 years. The Long Term HIV/AIDS Survivors Group is a weekly discussion group led by licensed social worker Jay Boda.

HIV/AIDS related issues had been a common topic at an existing Healthy Aging discussion group at the Center that Boda also ran. When a similar program in the neighborhood had recently come to a close as the hosting agency was subsumed by a larger organization and moved uptown, Greenwich House and Boda decided to initiate a dedicated discussion for long-term survivors and their specific needs.

The group discusses whatever topics that the participants desire. “I don’t want to say the goal of the group is to just ‘feel better’, but it is,” said Boda. “We’ll discuss whatever someone is going through and struggling with, whatever they need to talk through to better cope with their situation” he continued. Tips and bouts of inspiration are also shared. Topics include relationships, intimacy, loss, health status, illness progression as well as the marginalization, disrespect and invisibility many feel because of both their illness and age.

The group ranges from 2-7 participants. Any more and it becomes hard to have a meaningful discussion Boda noted. Many participants have been distanced from family and lost many friends to the same disease. “We’re here to release the tension and find genuine support and connection. We find strength in in knowing we’re all here together, survivors, partners and facilitators,” Boda added.

The free group meets Thursdays at the Judith C. White Senior Center, 27 Barrow Street, 4th Floor at 2:00 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome and the group is open to all long term survivors regardless of gender, status or means of transmission. For more information contact Assistant Center Director, Keith McAree at kmcaree@greenwichhouse.org or 212-242-4140 ext. 261.   

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Greenwich House
27 Barrow Street
New York, NY 10014
212-242-4140
info@greenwichhouse.org