Understanding HIV-Associated Dementia and AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC)

Also known as HIV encephalopathy

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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that is spread through contact with one of several body fluids. If HIV progresses, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) can develop.

HIV remains a very dangerous virus; however, since the mid 1990s, aggressive treatment such as antiretroviral therapy has prevented some people who are HIV positive from developing AIDS.

What Is HIV-Associated Dementia?

HIV-Associated dementia is cognitive impairment that develops when HIV impacts the brain's ability to function.

What Are the Symptoms of HIV-Associated Dementia?

Symptoms may include difficulty with concentration, memory and attention, as well as personality and behavior changes. Motor function and coordination can also be affected in more severe HIV-associated dementia.

There are different degrees of HIV-associated dementia:

  • Asymptomatic Neurocognitive Impairment (ANI)- People with ANI may show a deficit on a cognitive screening tool in a certain area, yet they are still able to function well on a daily basis.
  • Minor Cognitive Motor Disorder (MCMD)- People with MSMD demonstrate impaired cognition when tested and their day-to-day functioning is mildly affected.
  • AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC)- People with ADC show significant impairment of cognitive functioning on testing. They will have difficulty processing and learning information, paying attention and concentrating. Their daily functioning is notably impaired

How Is HIV-Associated Dementia Diagnosed?

The physician will examine the person and review their history, current health condition and medical diagnoses. Cognitive screening tests may be administered to determine to what extent cognition is affected. A lumbar puncture, blood tests and imaging tests (such as CT or MRI) may also be ordered. 

How Is HIV-Associated Dementia Treated?

Antiretroviral therapy and highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) are sometimes prescribed to treat HIV-associated dementia.

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    Article Sources
    • AIDS.gov. HIV and the Brain. 
    • National Institute of Mental Health. HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorders. 
    • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Neurological Complications of AIDS Information Page. 
    • University of Rochester Medical Center. HIV and Dementia