Improving Mental Health in Older Adults Living With HIV

Managing mental health in adults living with HIV is paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Older adults who are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) often experience higher levels of anxiety, loneliness and depression. Now, with lockdown and social distancing measures in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these levels have been exacerbated.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which the goal is to become fully aware of the present moment and to not judge one’s thoughts as good or bad. Mindfulness has been used as a therapy and has been demonstrated to lower levels of both anxiety and depression.

A recent study conducted by investigators from ViiV Healthcare sought to explore if an online mindfulness based intervention could improve the mental health of older adults living with HIV. The data was presented during the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) 2021 virtual sessions.

The study, a randomized controlled trial, included 214 participants who were randomized with a mean age of 60.4 years, of which 89% were male, 69% were white, and 74% were gay or lesbian. The participants self-reported any degree of loneliness in a daily dairy that asked the question "How lonely do you feel today?”

Levels of depression were measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D-10), anxiety was measured using the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7), and loneliness was measured using a Three-item Loneliness Scale (3IL).

Findings from the study showed that after 25 days of the intervention, the participants demonstrated reduced levels of depression and reduced levels of anxiety in comparison to the control group. Among the subset of participants with elevated baseline depression scores, the between-group improvement in depression scores was greater and among the subset of participants with elevated baseline anxiety scores, the between-group improvement in anxiety scores was greater.

Additionally, loneliness improved significantly, as indicated by the Daily Diary, for those with at least moderate loneliness at baseline.

“This randomized controlled trial is the first to show that a series of brief, online mindfulness audio lessons improves mental health outcomes among older adults living with HIV who report some degree of loneliness,” the authors wrote. “For many patients, this intervention may offer emotional relief, particularly with regard to depression and anxiety, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”