Skip to content

HIV & AIDS Health Center

Select An Article

HIV and Dementia

Font Size

HIV is often linked with mental decline and worsening motor skills. When the virus attacks someone's nervous system, it can damage their brain and cause HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). 

Symptoms of HAND include at least two of the following:

Recommended Related to HIV/AIDS

AIDS and Social Security Disability Insurance

Disability insurance provides you regular payments when you are not able to work due to illness or injury. If you have a disability and AIDS, you may be able to obtain one or more types of disability insurance. They include: Employer-paid disability. This is often free to you. Private disability. You pay for this yourself. Government-sponsored disability, such as Social Security. These programs are free to you. Both employer-paid and private long-term disability plans...

Read the AIDS and Social Security Disability Insurance article > >

  • Short attention span
  • Memory loss
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Poor judgment
  • Confusion
  • Slowed learning
  • Poor coordination and balance
  • Weakness in the arms and legs

Three Classes of HAND

Asymptomatic neurocognitive impairment. Tests show a decline in mental abilities, but the person's everyday life isn't affected.  

Mild neurocognitive disorder. There’s a noticeable change in the person's ability to do everyday tasks.

HIV-associated dementia. This form really limits someone's ability to lead a normal life. People in the later stages can have seizures, psychosis, and loss of bladder or bowel control.

The first two classes have mild to moderate symptoms, and they affect nearly half of people who have HIV. The third, severe form is relatively rare these days. That’s due to the introduction of a drug cocktail called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in 1996.  

Diagnosis

The symptoms of HAND are similar to a number of disorders, so diagnosis can be tricky. Plus, symptoms can vary from one person to the next.

The doctor may do a mental evaluation, brain scan, and spinal tap (a test sample of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord).

Treatment

While there's no cure, the most effective treatment for HIV-associated dementia is HAART, which is known to reduce the amount of HIV in the blood.

Particularly helpful drugs are ones that can cross the blood-brain barrier, like zidovudine (Retrovir). A doctor may also prescribe an antidepressant, an antipsychotic drug, or a psychostimulant (a drug for alertness).

A person with this condition may need help remembering to take their medication.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on November 18, 2014
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

misconception
How much do you know?
contemplative man
What to do now.
 
research
Should you be tested?
HIV under microscope
What does it mean?
 
HIV AIDS Screening
Slideshow
man opening condom wrapper
Quiz
 
HIV AIDS Treatment
Feature
Discrimination Stigma
Feature
 
Treatment Side Effects
Feature
grilled chicken and vegetables
Article
 
obese man standing on scale
Article
cold sore
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections