This Club Unites Older People Who Have HIV

Bonding over movies, age and a common diagnosis

Fifteen adults ages 50 to 80 gather weekly at the Regent Street Cinema in London to watch movies like Love Me or Leave Me with Doris Day and High Noon with Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper. What they have in common: these filmgoers all live with HIV.

The club — called Silver Surfers — was put together in October 2017 by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), a British charity advocating and providing services for people living with HIV. THT’s Health, Wealth and Happiness project specifically supports people in their 50s and older who live with HIV, and the film club is part of that movement.

“Their social isolation can be compounded by the death of friends during the ’80s and ’90s, when AIDS was at its peak, by no longer being part of the gay scene and by their reluctance to discuss their diagnosis,” wrote Sophie Goodchild for a recent article in The Guardian about the club.

This initiative is in response to the growing population of people over 50 living with HIV. According to THT, in Great Britain, nearly three in 10 people accessing HIV-related care were 50 or older at the end of 2014, compared with one in eight in 2003.

Club Members With HIV Combat Loneliness

The Guardian spoke with one member of the club — Simon Horvat-Marcovic, 53 — who uses the group as a social outlet to cope with his depression.

“Having people understanding how you’re feeling, what’s going on inside your head and who you don’t have to explain yourself to. For me, that’s been brilliant,” he told The Guardian.

The group is in part a reaction to the loneliness epidemic society faces that disproportionately affects the older population. Great Britain recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness to help its residents.

“More than one-third of older adults report loneliness, which may be due to social isolation,” Shannon Halloway wrote for an article provided through The OpEd Project for Next Avenue. “More than 6 million adults 65 and older have a disability that requires assistance in order to leave the home, and over half of older adults live alone. Lonely older adults may stop eating or getting dressed and become housebound, increasing the risk for frailty and injury.”

While advances in medicine keep the physical health of those living with HIV generally stable, the social and mental health needs of this group of people are still often unmet — especially for older adults who may be less inclined to partake in nightlife activities dominated by younger people.

“The film club provides an alternative outlet, where people feel safe to discuss their physical and mental health issues over tea before the screening,” Clive Blowes, a national coordinator for THT, told Goodchild. One woman in the group is less reliant on counseling services, for example, after joining outings, Clowes added.

Sense of Support

One 74-year-old member told The Guardian that because she has not widely shared her HIV status, the club provides an essential support network where she can compare health notes, share problems such as side effects of medication and pick up tips without fear of being judged or misunderstood.

Other Silver Surfers members told The Guardian they’ve shared suggestions for health apps and additional advice doctors haven’t been able to provide.

The Silver Surfers club is about much more than cinema, though. The act of seeing movies is a vessel for socializing and connecting, and in turn, the members end up feeling comfortable to share more and support each other through the trials of living with HIV.

Grace Birnstengel, writer at Next Avenue in a black shirt and pink background.
By Grace Birnstengel
Grace Birnstengel is a reporter, writer and editor for Next Avenue where she focuses on America's diverse experiences of aging. She recently concluded an in-depth series on America's first generation aging with HIV/AIDS.

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