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HIV Associated Dementia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

HIV Associated Dementia

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Dementia is a progressive, irreversible disease that causes deterioration in the brain. HIV-associated dementia, or AIDS dementia complex, may occur in the late stages of HIV infection. AIDS Dementia complex occurs in younger people, unlike other types of dementia. Symptoms of this type of dementia may vary from person to person. Common symptoms include thinking and cognitive impairments. Other common symptoms may be seen, such as changes in mood and behavior, speech impairments, motor problems, and poor balance.

AIDS dementia usually occurs as the CD4+ count falls below 200 cells/ microliter.

Are there Other References for HIV-associated Dementia?

Healthcare workers will refer to HIV-associated dementia by a variety of other names. These include:

  • HIV-associated dementia
  • AID Dementia Complex
  • AIDS dementia

What is HIV-associated Dementia?

What is HIV-associated Dementia

HIV-associated dementia is a complicated syndrome that affects different nervous systems and mental symptoms that can develop in some individuals living with the HIV disease. HIV/ AIDS affects many of the body’s organ systems, including the brain and nervous system. The HIV infection makes its way to the brain relatively quickly because of an infection called HIV encephalopathy. The more this infection spreads, the worse dementia symptoms become. 

AIDS Dementia Complex is not common in those in the early stages of HIV, but the risk increases as the disease advances. AIDS dementia is typically seen in the advanced stages of HIV/AIDS and in about 7% of individuals who are not taking anti-HIV drugs.

Not everyone who has HIV/AIDS will develop HIV-associated dementia.

Facts about Dementia from HIV Infection (HIV-associated dementia)

  • Mental process decline is a common complication of HIV infection.
  • Symptoms may vary from person to person, but they may be linked to a single disorder known as HIV-associated dementia.
  • The most common symptoms of HIV-associated dementia include a decline in thinking, cognitive functions, reasoning, and problem-solving.
  • Those living with HIV-associated dementia may also experience changes in behavior, speech problems, and motor movement problems.
  • When these symptoms get worse enough, those living with AIDS/HIV may be diagnosed with HIV-associated dementia. 

Who gets HIV-associated Dementia?

Who gets HIV-associated Dementia

Individuals who have HIV/AIDS are at risk of developing HIV-associated dementia. HIV/AIDS affects many young people who still enjoy a very independent and fun lifestyle. Those living with HIV-associated dementia at a young age may struggle with employment due to the onset of HIV-associated dementia at an earlier age than other dementia types.

HIV/ AIDS is still a disease with negative stigmas attached to it, so developing HIV-associated dementia may be very difficult for those living with it and their family members. HIV-associated dementia can cause loneliness and isolation to go along with the day-to-day struggles caused by symptoms.

What are the Risk Factors of HIV-associated Dementia?

The risk is higher in individuals with an HIV infection and with those who choose not to manage it with antiretroviral therapy. Chances also increase in developing HIV-associated dementia in late-stage AIDS.

Symptoms of HIV-associated Dementia

Symptoms of HIV-associated Dementia

The following symptoms may be seen in those living with HIV-associated dementia.

  • Encephalitis (membranes of the brain and spinal column swell)
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairments that prevent you from thinking clearly
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Speaking impairments
  • Apathy Or lack of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed
  • Gradual loss of motor skills
  • Reduced Coordination

Diagnosing and Treating AIDS Dementia

Diagnosing and Treating AIDS Dementia

An evaluation is essential when determining if you or a loved one is living with HIV-associated dementia. Your healthcare provider should do a complete medical history and some of the following.

  • Neurological Motor and Sensory Examination
  • Mental Status test. This simple test tests memory and other cognitive skills that are usually part of a neurological exam.
  • Tests of Physical Abilities/movements
  • MRI or CT Scan
  • Blood Tests
  • Spinal Tap
  • Measurement of CD4 count and HIV Viral load

Stages of HIV-associated dementia

Four stages are associated with AIDS dementia.

  • Stage 0:- No symptoms. Normal motor and cognitive functions.
  • Stage 0.5:- Minimal impairment. Those living in stage .5 of HIV-associated dementia can still work and perform normal day-to-day activities.
  • Stage 1:- Functional impairment of both motor and cognitive abilities. Those living with stage 1 HIV-associated dementia can still walk without assistance and carry on with most day-to-day activities.
  • Stage 2:- In stage 2 of HIV-associated dementia, individuals typically can no longer work and have problems coping with aspects of day-to-day life. They can still take care of themselves and walk. 
  • Stage 3:- Those who are living with stage 3 HIV-associated dementia experience significant mental and motor impairments. In stage 3 HIV-associated dementia, individuals can no longer care for themselves most of the time.
  • Stage 4:- Stage 4 HIV-associated dementia is a near vegetative state and needs complete care.

Tips for Visiting Your Doctor

When you have an appointment with your doctor, you want to get the most out of your appointment, These tips can help.

  • Know the reason why you are seeing the doctor.
  • Write down all the questions you would like answered before the visit. Be sure you take your questions with you to your appointment.
  • Bring someone with you to your appointment to help remind you to ask all the questions you have and remember any important details from your appointment.
  • Write down all new diagnoses, new medications, treatments, or tests. Be sure to document any further instructions given to you during your visit.
  • If medications are prescribed, know why they are prescribed and the possible side effects.
  • Ask about other treatment options if any are available.
  • Write down all follow-up appointments. Include the date, the time, location, and the purpose of the visit.
  • Know the best way to contact your provider if questions arise before your next appointment.
  • Get a care summary of your visit.

Treatment of HIV-associated Dementia

Treatment of HIV-associated Dementia

There are no cures for HIV-associated dementia; however, with proper treatment, HIV-associated dementia can be controlled in some individuals. Treatments may include the following.

Antiretroviral therapy

Antiretroviral helps control HIV within your body and allows the body to try and reverse some of the damage. It may help with some of the dementia symptoms. It is best to take antiretroviral medicines as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS until you have an “undetectable” HIV viral load.

Abuse Counseling

Individuals with HIV who abuse drugs or alcohol may have more severe dementia symptoms. Getting help through abuse counseling may help slow symptoms and progression.


You want to continue to take your medications prescribed to you by your healthcare provider to help treat/ manage HIV/AIDS. They may also prescribe other medications such as antidepressants or stimulants to help manage your dementia symptoms.

Lifestyle Changes

If you are living with dementia symptoms, having a more structured routine may help. Writing lists to help you remember and stay organized can be a huge benefit.

What is the prognosis of AIDS Dementia Complex?

The rate of progression of AIDS Dementia Complex varies from person to person. Over time HIV dementia can lead to complete dependence on others and even death.

Can you prevent HIV-associated dementia?

Those who are taking antiretroviral therapy and have it under control are less likely to develop HIV-associated dementia. They may still produce some mild cognitive impairment, but less common than those not taking antiretroviral medications. 

End of Life Issues with HIV-associated dementia

HIV-associated dementia is a progressive disease that will eventually require full-time care. It is important to talk with a lawyer to assign a trusted individual to look over your finances and your medical care.

When Should I call my Healthcare Provider?

When Should I call my Healthcare Provider

If you, a loved one, or a friend notices changes in your ability to speak, concentrate or start to see movement impairments, you will want to contact your healthcare provider. While AIDS Dementia Complex is not reversible, getting proper treatment can help you manage the symptoms that you are having.

Key Points About AIDS Dementia Complex

  • HIV-associated dementia may occur in late stages of an HIV infection.
  • HIV-associated dementia is seen in younger people, unlike other types of dementia.
  • Common symptoms include thinking and cognitive impairments, changes in mood and behavior, and motor problems.
  • AIDS dementia complex usually occurs when the CD4+ count falls below 200 cells/ microliter.
  • Those at the most significant risk of developing HIV-associated dementia are those who do not go through antiretroviral therapy.
  • There are four stages of HIV-associated dementia.
  • There are no cures for AIDS dementia complex, but some treatments are available to help manage symptoms.
  • The rate of progression varies from person to person. Over time those who have HIV Dementia will need complete full-time care.

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