"People are living longer with HIV, but they are also getting HIV in their 70s and 80s," added Norma Rolfsen, a nurse practitioner and program director of the HIV Care Program of the Michael Reese Research & Education Foundation at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago.
Rolfsen is among the public health advocates promoting HIV testing for older adults visiting their doctors for checkups and routine tests such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Primary care providers also should be discussing HIV prevention with older patients who are sexually active, Rolfsen said.
In addition, for HIV-positive adults who are living longer, Rolfsen said, health care providers must also remain vigilant about not ignoring other health issues. Cancer screenings and bone density tests, or addressing memory loss, remain important regardless of HIV status.
Bewley advises health care providers at the Midwest AIDS Training + Education Center at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, so he's well acquainted on different levels with the needs of older adults living with HIV.
That wasn't always so. After the encounter Bewley long ago came to see as a mistake, he soon visited a doctor for an HIV screening. It was negative, but six months later Bewley tested positive.
Though he hasn't developed AIDS, he has suffered debilitating side effects from some of the medications he has been prescribed over the years. For example, in 2011 he was hospitalized after suffering kidney failure his doctors attributed to an HIV medication his body rejected.
Today Bewley remains irrepressibly positive about living each day to its fullest. He begins most days at 5:30 a.m., being careful to eat a healthy breakfast — a high protein cereal with fruit — and taking his first dose of the three medications that are part of his latest, twice-a-day, HIV treatment regimen.
By 8 a.m., Bewley is often en route to a freelance job, relying on public transportation and toting his paints and supplies in a gym bag, along with a nutritious brown-bag lunch. He's a mural artist whose assignments range from creating works of art for nursery walls at private homes to illuminating the confines of pediatric waiting rooms.
This winter he is in his final course toward a master's degree in psychology from Argosy University in Chicago that he hopes will lead to a career as a counselor.
In the meantime, Bewley enjoys volunteering at his church, singing in a community choir and keeping physically fit by walking and biking in his North Side neighborhood. While he sometimes worries about occasional lapses in his memory, he is above all, grateful to be alive, and determined to keep sharing his message, well into a ripe old age.
"There is a need for the public to stop stigmatizing AIDS as a gay man's disease," Bewley said. "Everyone is at risk of HIV, and each of us needs to learn to take responsibility for our own health."