From a small corner of Africa, the HIV virus has spread to practically all parts of the globe and is now considered a pandemic. In the United States, about 1.2 million people are infected with the virus as of 2008 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, some 34 million people are said to have HIV as of 2010. Since 1981 when it was first identified, HIV/AIDS has claimed 30 million lives.
Continued research since the 1980s up to the present has resulted in the development of potent antiretroviral medications that slow down the virus, if not cure the disease. However, in many countries, lack of information, inadequate resources, politics, sexual lifestyles, and the overall stigma about HIV/AIDS continue to reverse gains in tackling the disease.
Entire countries and economies have suffered greatly because of HIV/AIDS prevalence especially in poor countries. Even in the US where healthcare is supposed to be world-class, HIV/AIDS continue to be a big public health issue. On a more personal level, individuals and their families who suddenly face an AIDS diagnosis feel helpless and scared because prognosis is not good overall. Yet if caught early and with proper medical intervention, AIDS can be manageable and patients can expect to have longer, more productive lives than earlier thought.
Symptoms and Treatment
HIV is spread through sexual contact, sharing of needles with an infected person, or through infusion of HIV-contaminated blood. It can also be transmitted by mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or through breast milk. Contrary to common notions, the virus cannot be spread through saliva, urine, sweat, tears, or feces, unless these are contaminated with blood.
Infection starts with flu-like symptoms like fever, headaches, sore throats, mouth sores and body rash ranging from 2-4 weeks. This is followed by a silent period that average about 8 years where the infected person feels no symptoms at all. Later the person will experience weight problems, stomach issues and muscle aches, and will later progress to AIDS.
If the CD4 T cell count drops below 200 there are usually concurrent opportunistic infections such as respiratory infections particularly pneumocystis pneumonia, wasting syndrome, candidiasis, and cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma and Burkitt’s lymphoma. The immune system is broken down by the virus and many organs are affected when the person has AIDS. Fatalities are caused by these complications.
Home Care Services
There is no substitute for adequate medical care for individuals with HIV/AIDS. However, you can run into insurance issues, financial constraints, and time-management problems when faced with caring for a family member with HIV/AIDS. You are also likely to have concerns regarding your personal health and may not be so open to being the primary caregiver. Those are expected and understandable concerns which can be addressed by getting home care support. Home care services can free up valuable time and alleviate your fears of caring for an infected loved one. It also allows flexible care in a more nurturing environment that is your own home.
How can PCAs or professional caregivers help you?
- Information and Awareness
Much of the fear comes from not knowing enough about HIV/AIDS. PCAs are trained to be knowledgeable about this condition and can dispel any myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. They seek clarification from health professionals for a complicated question. If your family needs basic information, the PCA at home can reinforce the education learned by the patient from the doctor or nurse at your last office or hospital visit.
PCAs will assist with activities of daily living such as bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, toileting and performing a physician-directed home exercise program (eg. range of motion exercises). Home care workers are also prepared to extend help with so-called instrumental activities of daily living which includes housekeeping tasks, shopping, meal preparation/cooking and transport to keep doctor’s appointments. They also assist patients in moving about safely with the use of walkers and other assistive devices.
Those who are at an advanced stage of AIDS are so weak that they are unable to take care of themselves physically. PCAs are there to assist in maintaining personal hygiene at all times. They understand that hygiene is important to prevent infection in a person with AIDS because the immune system is compromised. PCAs are trained to practice universal precautions including hand washing and donning gloves when necessary to prevent contamination. If you are concerned about being infected, some tasks can be delegated to a hired personal care attendant.
- Comfort Measures
People with AIDS experience a great deal of pain and comfort measures are provided by professional caregivers. These measures can range from giving pre-approved pain meds, massage, changing soiled bedding and clothing, aromatherapy, and other activities that promote relaxation. Comfort measures are especially valuable in palliative and end-of-life care, where a pain-free feeling is paramount in the last days of the patient.
- Medications and Health Related Functions
There are many medications to be taken by a person with HIV/AIDS. These can be confusing to remember and some people simply refuse to take them because of the side effects. A PCA, working under supervision of a medical professional, will make sure that every medication gets taken by the patient on time with his/her consent. Some functions such as blood pressure taking, blood sugar monitoring, or providing inhalers or oxygen during labored breathing can also be performed by these personnel.
- Emotional Support
PCAs and professional caregivers are good communicators. They know that a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS can feel like a death sentence to many people. Public stigma can bring about social isolation and many patients are plunged to depression. PCAs are available to talk even when you are not around. They are there to listen and talk about the patient’s feelings about HIV/AIDS and encourage participation in their own care. PCAs have a positive attitude that they convey to your loved one.
- Monitoring and Referrals
The PCA is there at their side to monitor and observe for physical signs and symptoms that indicate some type of deterioration or an emergency situation. PCAs and home health aides are trained at administering basic CPR and know who to contact for help in case of an emergency. They also note of any new symptoms which they can report on the next physician visit. PCAs are trained to coordinate with all members of the health
care team for the HIV/AIDS patient if the need arises.
HIV/AIDS cases are expected to grow in the coming years despite advances in treatment. A family member or a close friend may be one of the unfortunate ones to be infected. Caring for people with HIV especially with full-blown AIDS can be financially, emotionally, and physically draining. Thankfully, there are many resources available to ease the burden including home care services.