Stigma Associated with Impaired Cognition, Functioning in Men with HIV

For men living with HIV, stigma associated with the disease may be directly related to cognitive impairment and everyday functioning

For men living with HIV, stigma associated with the disease may be directly related to cognitive impairment and everyday functioning, according to a new study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

As individuals infected with HIV are now living longer, the related psychological and social burden of the disease has grown. Not only can stigma prevent individuals from seeking care, but it can have damaging effects on patients’ mental health and potentially contribute to declining cognitive function, according to the researchers.

For the study, the authors compared results from cognitive testing and mental health questionnaires with stigma-related questionnaires from 512 older men with HIV. HIV-related stigma, as indicated by a single self-report item, was found to contribute to lower cognitive test performance and worse mental health.

The link between HIV-related stigma and on cognitive test performance and anxiety was more predominant, whereas stigma had a direct but weaker association with depression. As a result, the researchers noted that stigma contributed to a downstream effect on participation in social activities and function in everyday life. Although the mechanisms through which stigma affects cognition are unclear, the researchers noted that the impact of chronic stress on the brain and psychological effects, such as internalized negative beliefs, may be factors.

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