A combination of factors (including HIV itself) can cause cognitive impairment in people with HIV. Sometimes lifestyle changes can help keep memory problems at bay.
HIV-associated dementia is now rare because more people are being diagnosed early and starting treatment on time.
HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) is more common in people who started treatment with a low CD4 count. This is less common now that BHIVA guidelines recommend that people start treatment right away.
If someone has started treatment with a very low CD4 count, they’re more likely to have some HIV-induced damage to the brain, or an opportunistic infection that affects the brain.
People living with HIV can experience cognitive impairment caused by HIV itself, or by factors like:
There are also more subtle forms of impairment which don’t cause noticeable problems but which can be picked up by tests.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society only around 2% of people living with HIV now experience dementia, whereas this figure was 20-30% before antiretrovirals were available.
Usually HIV-related memory problems in people who are on treatment are at the milder end of the spectrum, and many people living with HIV experience them. Generally these problems wouldn’t be classed as dementia.
More severe memory problems - such as dementia - are relatively uncommon, but may be marked out by:
The risk of developing brain impairment is higher if you received a late HIV diagnosis. It also depends on your lowest ever (nadir) CD4 count.
Most people are diagnosed and start treatment in good time to prevent memory impairment and in those who are experiencing it, antiretroviral treatments can sometimes reverse the problem.
You can reduce your likelihood of developing brain impairment by reducing your alcohol intake and not taking recreational drugs.
Managing stress and depression is also important.
Adopting a healthy diet, exercising, stopping smoking and losing weight if you're overweight are good ways to avoid dementia.
Next: Menopause and HIV ››
‹‹ Back to: Kidney problems and HIV
(No votes cast)
Please log in
or register to vote.
to add this article to My favourites.
Adding an article to My favourites will allow you to easily come back to it later or print it.
You will need to be logged in before you can leave a comment.
Please log in using the form on the top right of the page or register.
This article was last reviewed on
by Anna Peters
Date due for the next review: 5/1/2021
Content Author: Kerri Virani
Current Owner: Kerri Virani
Cognitive impairment and HIVRoger PebodyNAM AidsmapMay 2017
BHIVA guidelines for the treatment of HIV-1 positive adults with antiretroviral therapy 2015 (2016 interim update)Laura Waters, N Ahmed, B Angus, M Boffito, M Bower, D Churchill, D Dunn, S Edwards, C Emerson, S Fidler, M Fisher, R Horne, S Khoo, C Leen, N Mackie, N Marshall, F Monteiro, M Nelson, C Orkin, A Palfreeman, S Pett, A Phillips, F Post, A Pozniak, I Reeves, C Sabin, R Trevelion, J Walsh, E Wilkins, I Williams, A WinstonAugust 2016
Tests for diagnosing dementiaNHS Choices9/7/17
HIV-related cognitive impairmentAlzheimer’s Society2017
Brain impairment in people with HIV may not be as common as we thoughtNAM aidsmap2011
Scattered pictures – brain impairment and HIVNAM aidsmap2009
HIV in the brainNAM aidsmap2011
Cognitive impairment common in people with HIV despite antiretroviral therapyMichael CarterSeptember 2007NAM aidsmap
HIV and the brainLiz HighleymanThe Body2009
What is HIV-related cognitive impairment?Alzheimer’s SocietyNovember 2010
Memory problemsNAM aidsmapMarch 2011
Rarer causes of dementiaAlzheimer's SocietyJanuary 2014
HIV and lymphomaMatt SharpApril 2011NAM Aidsmap
Neurological complications of HIVJohn Hopkins Medicine
Can dementia be prevented?NHS ChoicesOctober 2010
Various people talk about their experiences of living with HIV.
CAB - Citizens Advice Bureau
HIV Drug Interactions
George House Trust
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Copyright 2018 © Terrence Higgins Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales (reg. no. 288527)
Company reg. no. 1778149 and a registered charity in Scotland (reg. no. SC039986). Registered office: 314-320 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8DP.