How HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder Affects the Mind as a Person Ages

Year after year, advancements made in the treatment of HIV are helping many to lead longer and healthier lives. As individuals enter their later years, it is important to know what to expect when living with HIV.

Current Standards for Testing
For example, at least one-third of HIV-positive patients will develop what is termed HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder.  The medical community knows of this disorder, and very often tests older adults who are HIV-positive. New information on the cognitive functions of those living with an HIV infection may change how physicians test for the disorder.

Normally, doctors will administer a standard neuropsychology exam. If a patient scores well on this test, he is usually deemed cognitively normal. This standard test seemed to be doing the job—until the matter was further investigated. Researchers examined a group of patients who had passed this test, but then subjected them to different types of testing. The surprising results exposed the need for further probing when looking to diagnose HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder.

What the Research Revealed
Older, HIV-positive adults were asked to perform certain mental tasks on cue. At times, the tasks were changed from one to another. This is where physicians began to notice a lag between healthy participants and those with HIV. This response to switching tasks was significantly slower in the HIV group.

To delve a bit deeper, brain scans were ordered. The scans revealed that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex was reacting differently in the control group than the HIV-positive one. This area of the human brain is linked to both executive and apathetic deficits. These cognitive impairments may come in under the radar with standard testing.

The Latest Developments
At this time, we have no way to treat the disorder. Efficient testing, however, is still vital to patients, as well as their families and caregivers. Understanding that some functions might come a little slower to HIV-positive individuals during their later years is important for those who interact with them daily. Effective testing and education are the keys.

These studies are recent. More study and research are underway.