Health advocate Nelson Vergel says that he's largely finished reading news and research about people who are aging while living with HIV.
Most of that news, Vergel said while speaking at a Test Positive Aware Network's ( TPAN ) Oct. 28 conference Older, Wiser and Stronger: Living Well as You Age with HIV, is negative, concentrating on inherent difficulties of aging while living with a chronic condition.
Vergel, who lives in Houston, is the founder of nonprofit organizations Body Positive Wellness Clinic and Program for Wellness Restoration, among other accomplishments. He spoke at length about the need for older individuals living with HIV to be able to become their own advocates, especially when engaging with physicians.
Most patients get just a few minutes they can speak with their doctor during checkups, so patients need to be able to clearly explain their problems.
"It amazes me how some people are better than others at getting what they want from the doctor, even when you are talking about the same doctor," Vergel said.
Most doctors will not automatically think to perform certain tests, he added, noting "All of us get [tests for] viral loads, CD4, weight and blood pressure. Everything else you have to ask. … Don't be too passive. The passive patients get treated differently."
But he did remind the audience never to tell a doctor they read about a condition on the internet. "Just say you 'read it somewhere,' or even print it out and ask the doctor to look at it," Vergel said.
Howard Brown Health Chief Clinical Officer Magda Houlberg said physicians treating aging patients with HIV should consider using an approach like that of practitioners of geriatric medicine, focusing on alleviating symptoms rather than making specific diagnoses.
"In geriatric medicine, syndromes matter more than diagnoses," Houlberg said. "A lot of folks have a hard time getting their head around that. ... It's tough to work with patients in that setting, because you can't just give them one answer."
She added, "You need to change their environment or give them pieces to function there."
Also speaking at the daylong program were TPAN CEO Patti Capouch; Positively Aware editor Jeff Berry; Howard Brown Health social worker Hugh Cole; activist Rae Lewis Thornton; and Chicago House Medical Case Management Supervisor Tom Hunter.