Thanks to recent advances in medical research, we now know that early, lifelong use of antiretroviral treatment (ART) by people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV, leads to better health and a near-normal life expectancy.
As a caregiver for a person living with HIV, what you do each and every day is just as helpful in the fight against HIV as obtaining the cure that the global medical community is striving for.
That’s great news for people living with HIV and their loved ones, and gives millions of people around the world hope that a cure can be found in this generation.
But there’s still a lot of work to be done on the homefront for the people who have to live with HIV daily, along with their spouses or partners, families, and friends.
Typically, family caregivers of people living with HIV are also their spouses or partners, which can further complicate their relationship dynamic. In addition to the worry they face over having a partner who is ill, caregivers of people living with HIV will no doubt also be concerned about their own health.
Outside of health concerns, other challenges that family caregivers of HIV patients face include financial issues, social stigma, and lack of support from others in their circle of family and friends who often lack an understanding of HIV.
Being a family caregiver of a person living with HIV is definitely not easy.
Because HIV compromises one’s immune system, a person living with HIV is especially vulnerable to infections and other illnesses that normally wouldn’t be life-threatening to a person whose immune system has not been compromised. Caregivers and other people in the home have to be careful to minimize their exposure to common illnesses such as the cold or flu, which could result in severe complications like pneumonia for someone with a compromised immune system due to HIV.
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV and AIDS are sometimes used interchangeably to describe two different medical terms.
HIV - When someone has the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, it means they’ve contracted a virus that attacks the immune system through the exchange of bodily fluids. By taking a powerful cocktail of prescription drugs, someone living with HIV can have a long and productive life without developing AIDS.
AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is a condition that develops when the immune system can no longer fight off HIV. AIDS is considered the most serious stage of HIV infection, and once a person is at this stage, his or her life expectancy drops significantly.
It can take years, or even decades, for HIV to develop into AIDS.
How can you help your partner who has HIV?
- Do some research to learn the basics of HIV and AIDS. Knowing how HIV is spread (and not spread) will go a long way towards ending the stigma that people living with HIV and their loved ones face. It will also help you know what to expect as HIV progresses, and what each treatment regimen entails for your loved one and yourself as their caregiver.
- If possible, take a home care course to learn the skills you need to take care of your loved one at home. Consult your local health centre, public health department, doctor, the Red Cross, and any other HIV/AIDS related agencies to help you find a home health course. You may also enlist the help of an Elizz Caregiver Coach to get you connected to the right services and resources for you and your loved one living with HIV or AIDS.
- Get permission from your partner to speak to his or her health team, including their doctor, nurse, social worker, personal support worker, and any other person who is providing care. This will help you to learn how to give practical assistance such as administering medications, and helping to maintain his or her personal hygiene. You also need to learn how to minimize your own risk as you perform these caregiving tasks.
- You and your partner may wish to speak to a lawyer to set up a power of attorney for personal care. This allows you to make personal care decisions on behalf of your partner if he or she is no longer able to make decisions on their own.
HIV and AIDS Caregiver Support
As you provide care for your partner who has HIV or AIDS, don’t forget to look after yourself.
Consider joining a support group, either one that you can attend in person or virtually, such as an Elizz Group Support session, in order to address your own emotional needs.
Finding others who are going through the same situation can help you cope with the emotions that an HIV diagnosis in your family brings, and you can learn from their experiences as well.
Taking care of another person through a health crisis can use up your own energy reserves and can cause you to get sick. Get plenty of rest and exercise so you can be in optimal health; when your immune system is in peak condition, it can better resist the viruses that can wreak havoc on your partner’s immune system.
Being a family caregiver doesn’t mean doing everything on your own. Your local community health centres, doctor’s office, public health office, and HIV support agencies can point you towards services that can help you manage your caregiving responsibilities.
You can also rely on Elizz services to provide in-home health services and personal care, backed by over 100 years of expertise in health care to give you peace of mind.
These days, HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence the way it was in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic, but the fact that there is still no cure is a matter of concern.
As a caregiver for a person living with HIV, what you do each and every day is just as helpful in the fight against HIV as obtaining the cure that the global medical community is striving for. It’s important to keep the goal of finding a cure in your line of sight, but don’t overlook the successes that you’ve achieved today.
Get the latest information about treatment, prevention, and events around Canada to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, at CATIE, Canada’s source for information about HIV (as well as Hepatitis C).