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(ADC; AIDS Encephalopathy; AIDS-related Dementia; ARD; HIV-associated Dementia Complex; HIV Encephalopathy; HIV Associated Encephalopathy (HAE), HIV associated Cognitive/Motor Complex; HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder)


AIDS dementia complex (ADC) is a loss in mental skills in people with late-stage AIDS. It can affect thinking, reasoning, learning, understanding, and moving. This causes problems with day-to-day tasks.

Immune System
Immune system white blood cell
HIV destroys white blood cells vital to the immune system.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


ADC is caused by the HIV infection spreading to the brain.

Risk Factors

The risk is higher in people with HIV infection who do not get treated. It is also higher in people with late-stage AIDS.


Problems start slowly and get worse over time. They may be:

  • Problems with focus
  • Forgetfulness
  • Slowed thinking
  • Irritability
  • Problems walking
  • Weak muscles
  • Problems speaking
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Personality changes


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Mental health and neurological exams may be done.

Your blood may be tested. A lumbar puncture may be done to test the fluid around your brain and spinal cord.

Images may be taken. This can be done with:


AIDS cannot be cured. Symptoms may be managed with:


Antiretroviral drugs are used to lower the amount of the virus in the body. More than 1 may be used.

Other medicines may also be used to manage problems. These may be:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Stimulants


ADC cannot be prevented in a person who has HIV.


AIDS—U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  http://www.aids.gov 

The Foundation for AIDS Research  http://www.amfar.org 


AIDS Committee of Toronto  http://www.actoronto.org 

Canadian AIDS Society  http://www.cdnaids.ca 


HIV and dementia. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hiv-and-aids/hiv-and-dementia. Accessed October 16, 2019.

Nicholas MK, Collins J, et al. AIDS. Youmans & Winns Neurological Surgery, 7th Edition. Elsevier. 2016.

Overview of HIV infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/condition/overview-of-hiv-infection . Updated June 6, 2019. Accessed October 16, 2019.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019
  • Update Date: 06/10/2020