Guest Blogger: Samantha Langan, Occupational Therapist
Today people around the world will be wearing red ribbons to support World AIDS Day. This day of recognition started in 1988 to provide people with an opportunity to unite in the fight against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), show support for those who are living with HIV and to also commemorate those who have died. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide in 2011. In 2012, The Public Health Agency of Canada reported 2062 new cases of HIV, but it is expected that others are also living with the condition, not yet knowing they have been infected. There continues to be many myths and stereotypes around how HIV is transmitted and stigma remains for those living with HIV. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a cure for this, but the disease is preventable.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks our body’s immune system, and over time, weakens our immune system to the point where it can no longer fight off bacteria, viruses, parasites, and even cancers. These diseases, known as opportunistic infections, can progress in the body of a person living with HIV and become what is known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. While those living with HIV do experience difficulties, HIV is now considered a long-term chronic illness that can be treated to help prolong and improve quality of life for those living with HIV/AIDS.
HIV is known to health professionals as an “episodic disability”, which means that for people living with the virus, symptoms can fluctuate unpredictably. Some common symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue, changes in sensation in the hands and feet, decreased concentration and thinking, digestive problems, chronic pain as well as depression or anxiety. As symptoms can vary, people with HIV / AIDS can experience difficulty carrying out everyday activities like taking care of themselves, managing at home and attending work.
Occupational therapists support and empower people with all forms of disabilities and can assist people living with HIV to better manage in their desired activities despite unpredictable and on-going symptoms. In fact, occupational therapists work with those living with HIV by helping them to: manage their energy despite pain and fluctuating symptoms, find ways to adapt to tasks to make them more manageable, obtain devices that can improve safely and independence when completing daily tasks. Occupational therapists can also help people manage the emotional consequences associated with the condition, and can develop strategies to assist with cognitive changes should these exist. Another great way occupational therapists are helping those with HIV is through education and by providing strategies for them to be able to self-manage their disease. This is essential since HIV is a long-term illness. For more information about HIV/AIDS, check out the links below, or talk to an Occupational Therapist about how we help.