Medicine & Health

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  • (2022) Aung, Htein Linn
    With widespread access to combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART) and HIV suppression, life expectancy among people living with HIV (PLHIV) is increasing more than ever. According to UNAIDS, there were 8.1 million older PLHIV (i.e., 50 years of age and over) in 2020 globally. Although HIV-associated dementia has become rare in the cART era, mild neurocognitive impairments remain prevalent among PLHIV (~30% in virally suppressed). With aging, there is an increasing concern that HIV may precipitate neurocognitive abnormal aging because HIV is associated with increased markers of aging (e.g., immunosenescence and hyper-coagulopathy) and multiple age and HIV-related comorbidities (e.g., cardiovascular diseases). Importantly, these comorbidities occur at an earlier age and at a higher rate among PLHIV compared to age-matched HIV-negative persons. Earlier, more severe and more rapidly progressing neurocognitive impairment would have major public health consequences for the millions of PLHIV and the healthcare system. The overarching aim of this PhD thesis is to determine whether having chronic stable HIV infection and suppressive ART is associated with abnormal cognitive aging including premature cognitive aging (HIV and age synergistically/addictively lead to much lower cognitive performance at a younger age compared to controls), accentuated cognitive aging (HIV and age synergistically/addictively lead to much greater prevalence and severity of neurocognitive impairment), and/or accelerated cognitive aging (HIV and age synergistically/ addictively lead to much more rapid progression of neurocognitive impairment). To address these questions, we used a range of scientific methodologies including a systematic review, and several types of advanced statistical analyses using national and international longitudinal cohort data. First, to contextualise the potential public health consequences of cognitive aging in PLHIV, we conducted a narrative review of the burden of established dementia risk factors among PLHIV. We identified that the burden of several major dementia risk factors is much greater among PLHIV than in the general population. Second, we conducted the first-ever systematic review evaluating the current evidence for premature, accentuated and accelerated cognitive aging among PLHIV. We determined moderate evidence for premature cognitive aging and strong evidence for accelerated cognitive aging, while accentuated cognitive aging had not been optimally assessed. Lastly, addressing the previous literature major limitations (low sample size, cross-sectional study design, low proportion of older PLHIV, and inadequate controls/norms), we quantified the profiles of cognitive aging in four longitudinal studies of PLHIV. We demonstrated robust trends for premature cognitive aging among PLHIV compared to age-matched HIV-negative persons. We also demonstrated that older PLHIV had a higher risk for both neurocognitive impairment and neurocognitive decline compared to younger PLHIV, while controlling for normative age effect. These results are indicative of both accentuated and accelerated aging, although our research identified the need for longer-term studies using very large sample size to assess these trends especially in PLHIV older than 70+. Based on these findings, we discussed implications for clinical practice and future research directions.