The Neuroscience of HIV: World AIDS Day (Dec. 1)

Published: 30 November 2016

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, a time to raise awareness about a disease that has afflicted 70 million people worldwide, 35 million of whom have died as a result.

When most people think of AIDS, they generally do not think of a neurological disease, yet HIV infection can have an important impact on brain function. Untreated, HIV can cause severe dementia.

Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, together with investigators at other universities and clinics across Canada and in Australia, are conducting a major study to better understand the effects of HIV infection on brain health. 850 people living with HIV have volunteered for the study, and are undergoing regular cognitive testing over three years, along with detailed assessments of their general health, mood, day-to-day function and quality of life.

“While we wait for the outcome of our study, we recommend that people living with HIV take particular care of their brain health: stop smoking, get regular exercise, and enough sleep,” says Lesley Fellows, an MNI neurologist and the study’s lead investigator. “Minimize drugs or alcohol that might slow brain function. Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, whole grains and fish. Stay mentally active and engaged, whether at work, in a volunteer role, or through a hobby or social group. These are recommendations for everyone, but we think they are especially important steps to take if you live with HIV.”

Lesley Fellows, Department of Neurology & Neurosurgery, McGill University

Dr. Lesley Fellows is a neurologist specializing in disorders of cognition. Her research programme focuses on the brain basis of decision making in humans, using the tools of cognitive neuroscience.

lesley.fellows [at]

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