A possibility in the late stage of the HIV infection, HIV-related dementia affects between seven and 27 percent of patients, according to the Merck Manual Professional Edition. Unlike other types of dementia, HIV-related dementia occurs in younger people. This type of dementia occurs when the virus spreads to the brain, causing deterioration of the brain tissue.
As a result of the HIV-related dementia, patients can have changes to their cognitive functions, such as memory loss. The US Department of Veterans Affairs noted that HIV-related dementia can also affect emotions and behaviors, which include symptoms like depression, personality changes, apathy and irritability. Other symptoms include unsteady walking, shaky hands and clumsiness. HIV-related dementia is not reversible, and the effects of the dementia are permanent. Having dementia in addition to the HIV decreases the patient's prognosis in comparison to a patient with just HIV. The Merck Manual Professional Edition noted that HIV patients with untreated dementia have an average life expectancy of six months.
New research from Georgetown University Medical Center found that morphine may protect against HIV-related dementia. HealthDay News reports that when the rats were given morphine, the drug protected them from HIV toxicity. When the morphine entered the rats' systems, they caused astrocytes, a type of glial cell in the brain, to produce CCL5, a protein. The CCL5 then suppresses the HIV infection. The introduction of morphine into the rats' system prevents the onset of HIV-related dementia.
The researchers noted “they knew that some people with HIV who are heroin users never develop HIV brain dementia,” leading them to study the effects of morphine on HIV. Heroin and morphine has similar properties.
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