What is meant by AIDS dementia complex?

Sometimes called ADC, HIV-associated dementia or HIV/AIDS encephalopathy, AIDS dementia complex is caused by the HIV virus itself, yet it is not clearly known how the virus damages brain cells. It is thought that the damage to the brain is a result of a weakened immune system enabling infections to attack the brain.

In someone with HIV infection, the appearance of cognitive, behavioral or motor symptoms might indicate that he/she has AIDS dementia complex. A CT scan or MRI can show brain atrophy (shrinkage), in addition to other changes in the appearance of different parts of the brain, which is consistent with AIDS dementia complex.

Those with AIDS dementia complex may also experience problems with their sense of smell. When these symptoms are severe enough to interfere with everyday activity, a diagnosis of dementia may be warranted. HIV is easily overlooked as a possible cause of dementia. In someone with the HIV infection, cognitive impairment can oftentimes be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are closely associated with other conditions, such ass depression.

Before the use of antiretroviral drugs (medications that control HIV), around 20-30 percent of individuals with advanced HIV infection previously developed dementia. The figure has now decreased to about 2 percent. Treatment for the AIDS dementia complex by using a combination of at least three antiretroviral drugs can often prevent worsening of cognitive impairments caused by HIV, and, for some individuals, can reverse the cognitive damage caused by HIV.

Individuals with AIDS dementia complex should remain physically, mentally and socially active as long as they can.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.