HIV-positive people are living longer, healthier lives. HIV is no longer considered a death sentence, but rather a manageable, chronic condition. 35 million people live with HIV worldwide, 1.5 million in the United States. HIV-positive individuals now live well more than a few weeks, months, or years, and typically live for decades, most likely dying of unrelated causes. As a chronic condition, HIV brings new challenges.
Cognitive impairment has emerged as a problematic aspect of lifelong HIV disease management. Half of all people who contract HIV suffer from cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment can affect a person’s ability to manage their condition, to work, and to perform activities of daily life.
The characteristics of HIV-related cognitive impairment are unpredictable: some patients experience ongoing fluctuations in their cognitive abilities, while others either level off at a new 'normal' or continue to decline. This lack of predictable disease course is further complicated by unreliable patient self-reports, as many patients lose insight into their capabilities.
Docs who care for patients with HIV need tools to quantify a patient’s cognitive deficits and to monitor the effects of treatment. This is especially true since HIV medications can play a role in causing and mitigating cognitive symptoms. There are currently 73 new drugs in development for HIV. Finding a tailored treatment for each patient that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes side-effects is key to improving health outcomes and quality of life.