Even with today's effective combination HIV therapy, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) persist. Researchers and clinicians are working to understand the triggers for these neurological changes -- which can result in mild to severe memory problems, mood changes, and (more rarely) dementia -- and develop strategies to prevent or treat them.
San Francisco AIDS Foundation is currently partnering with "brain training" software company PositScience to develop and test a cognitive training program to treat HAND. The program hinges on the concept of "neuroplasticity": your brain's ability to remodel, or change, throughout your lifetime. (Watch a simple animated video of how neuroplasticity works.)
"We are so pleased to be partnering with PositScience to explore and develop a non-invasive treatment for HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder," says Bobby Fisher, manager of the foundation's housing and financial benefits programs. "It has become increasingly common for some of the people we serve in our programs to report cognitive deficits like memory difficulties, attention problems, and mood changes. It is a challenge for both patients and clinicians to determine if these conditions are due to aging, a complication related to HIV infection, or a combination of the two; the anxiety stemming from this uncertainty alone can be debilitating."
Fisher explains that people with cognitive deficits can experience difficulty adhering to HIV medications, keeping medical appointments, and paying bills on time. "Housing and financial benefits staff work closely with program participants to develop strategies to cope with memory and attention problems so they can continue to stay healthy," he says, but adds that coping strategies alone do not address the emotional and interpersonal toll that cognitive deficits can take on individuals' lives. Thanks to this partnership and PositScience's work, he says, "we are hopeful that our program participants and all people living with HIV will soon have an effective option to treat cognitive deficits and thus can live fuller, happier lives."
A key stage in this project is market research -- that is, interviewing and working with HIV-positive volunteers to gather feedback on the program and refine it for treatment of HAND. Interested in volunteering? The first step is completing a 21-question screening survey that will help the PositScience research team determine your eligibility to participate. Based on your experiences with attention and memory and your use of computer technology, the researchers may contact you for a telephone interview and, ultimately, a test run of their brain-training program.