Drugs help AIDS patients live well into senior years

first_img It works. Though he suffers from diarrhea, headaches, uncontrollable bleeding and continual pain in his feet, among other things, he’s alive. “I am certainly one of the lucky ones,” said Grand, a retired physician who still works with AIDS patients. He keeps a reminder of how lucky he is pinned to his living-room wall. It’s a picture taken at Keith’s, a North Hollywood bar, in the late 1970s. His arm is around his boyfriend, and next to them are three other friends. Only he survives. The other men pictured died from AIDS long ago. “I am hanging in there, holding on,” he said smiling, as he sat in his living room across from one of his good friends, Jack Fulkerson, a 60-year-old living with the disease. Both men had prepared for their deaths more than a decade ago, giving away prized possessions. Grand sold his four-bedroom home in Sylmar only to live in a rented apartment in North Hollywood. Fulkerson also sold his home and purchased a cremation service for himself. He was inspired by his 6-foot-tall boyfriend, whom he watched wither down to 98 pounds before dying of AIDS in 1986. “No services at all. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be beneath the ground,’ because I thought if this thing gets ahold of me, I know how I will look,”‘ Fulkerson said. Both men never dreamed of having the future they have now. Even with health complications, they volunteer to work with AIDS patients, go to the movies and celebrate with friends. Neither has ever been hospitalized for complications from AIDS. Still, Grand points out, the funerals have not stopped, as friends continue to succumb to the disease. Even more troublesome is the cavalier attitude he sees among many young gays, whose only reference points for men with AIDS are slick drug company advertisements showing shirtless, muscled men. True, newer AIDS treatments extend lives, but that life is difficult, Grand said. And even with those treatments, there are unknowns. Doctors worry that they are only now beginning to learn the long-term effects of some of these powerful and costly drug cocktails. Experts say there are indications that some of the newer anti-retroviral drugs used to treat AIDS accelerate heart disease, could cause high cholesterol over prolonged periods and also bring about diabetes and high blood pressure. These are health problems already affiliated with old age and could complicate treatment. “This is really new territory,” said Michael Montgomery, chief of the Office of AIDS for the California Department of Health Services. “Anti-retroviral drugs are highly toxic medications, and we seem to be seeing problems with heart disease and other illnesses.” Most of the highly toxic and common drugs used to treat AIDS have only been on the market for about 10 years. And though researchers say they show no signs of causing long-term kidney or liver problems, they might interact in unknown ways with diseases that already arise during old age. Grand believes he acquired diabetes through his medication and he worries about controlling the secondary effects of the new drugs that are supposed to extend his life. “Nobody knows the extent of taking these drugs over a long period of time,” Grand said. What is known is the cost. The older an AIDS patient gets, the more expensive the treatment. An average patient between the ages of 51 and 60 costs the state $9,007 annually, compared with $7,609 for an 18- to 30-year-old. As patients age in the system, they often need more costly drugs and more medical attention. By the time a patient passes age 60, he or she costs the state $9,421 annually. State and local officials don’t have estimates about the average life span of an AIDS patient. But if the prognosis of longer lives holds true, there could be a surge in over-50 AIDS patients in Los Angeles. The bulk of those living with AIDS – 44 percent – are currently between 40 and 49 years old. “Because of the success of the treatment available, we don’t know what is going to happen,” Montgomery said. Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Over the next decade, medical professionals predict, the ranks of seniors living with AIDS will grow as treatments extend their lives well into their golden years. In Los Angeles County alone, the percentage of those 50 and older living with AIDS has steadily climbed from 14 percent in 1997 to more than 25 percent in 2004, the most recent statistics show. And about 6 percent of those AIDS patients are more than 60 years old. Some clinics report treating patients into their 80s. “We literally have people that will not die from AIDS,” said Eric Daar, chief of HIV medicine at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. “It was once assumed that everyone with HIV infections will die from AIDS. Prior to good therapy, the average person would develop symptoms in eight to 10 years. Now, with good therapy, they may live. “We will often joke in the clinic that the least of a person’s problems is HIV. Their viral counts may be low, but they have diabetes or high blood pressure.” To combat the disease, Grand swallows five pills every morning and again at night. He takes an additional 11 pills to counter side effects from the disease and its treatment, including diabetes, high cholesterol and arrhythmia. NORTH HOLLYWOOD – Like many people his age, Terry Grand gulps down a handful of powerful prescription drugs for his ailments. But the 66-year-old isn’t treating many of the diseases that afflict other seniors. Grand has lived with AIDS for more than two decades and is part of a growing older generation of HIV sufferers expected to die of old age – not a disease that has decimated millions. “I expected I was going to die because all my friends died. I had given away everything valuable,” Grand said. “It amazes me that I am still alive with the years that I have been affected.” last_img read more

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