kathleen blanchard, EmaxHealth: elder HIVers experience premature brain aging (0126)

HIV infection or treatments causing premature brain aging
by Kathleen Blanchard RN
Jan 23rd, 2010
The Journal of Infectious Diseases 2010;201:336–340

Individuals with HIV are  found to suffer from premature aging of the brain, either from the infection or from the treatments. Scientists say the findings of concerning, given the present statistics that 14 to 18 percent of HIV infections in the US are among the over 50 age group. Cognitive decline and memory loss are being reported by individuals with HIV. Researchers say brain aging associated with HIV is a public health concern that needs more study.

First author Beau Ances, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at Washington University says, “Patients are surviving into their senior years, and a number of them are coming forward to express concerns about problems they’re having with memory and other cognitive functions.” By the year 2015, fifty percent of individuals with HIV in the US will be over age 50, making the effects of HIV infection and treatments a significant public health concern.

HIV studies have shown that the infection ages the body by ten years and has an adverse effect the heart, liver, endocrine system, skeleton and kidneys. Now scientists, using a technique known as arterial spin labeling that measures blood flow to the brain, have been able to find the effect of brain aging by comparing 26 uninfected HIV subjects to 25 patients who have HIV.

The study showed increased blood flow to the brain in HIV infected patients asked to perform visual tasks, showing that the brain had to work harder, even among younger subjects. “Brain blood flow levels decline naturally as we age, but HIV, the medications we use to control it or some combination of the two appear to be accelerating this process independent of aging,” Ances says.

Ances suggests that premature aging of the brain associated with HIV infection should be used as criteria for beginning medication treatment. “Could we reduce the harmful effects of the virus if we started treatment earlier, or does treatment significantly contribute to the harm that’s being done?” Ances asks. “These are the kinds of issues we urgently need to start examining as the AIDS patient population ages.” Premature aging of the brain associated with HIV infection could lead to full blown dementia as HIV infected patients who are living longer progress to their senior years.

The Journal of Infectious Diseases 2010;201:336–340

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