AIDS Dementia Complex


AIDS dementia complex (ADC), also known as HIV encephalopathy or HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), is a complication of advanced HIV infection characterized by a significant loss of memory, cognitive function, judgment, and verbal fluency. It typically occurs when a person with HIV is severely immunocompromised (as measured by the loss of CD4 T-cells).

ADC is among the list of AIDS-defining conditions classified by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  It is less commonly seen today than it was during the height of the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s due to the advent of combination antiretroviral therapy.

Even so, between 4% and 15% of people living with HIV will experience some form of neurocognitive impairment as a direct result of HIV infection. This not only includes people with an untreated infection but also those on long-term HIV therapy.

The symptoms of ADC are similar to those of other types of dementia. By definition, dementia is a chronic disorder caused by brain disease or injury that manifests with memory problems, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.