The Use of Methylphenidate for Cognitive Decline Associated With HIV Disease

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OBJECTIVE: Complaints of cognitive changes are often expressed by patients at all stages of HIV infection. Such changes include decreased memory and attention span, diminished concentration, apathy, and "slowing." Methylphenidate (MPD) has been used in several clinical studies in men with late-stage HIV disease in an attempt to ameliorate these difficulties. The objectives of this review article are to review salient psychopharmacological characteristics of MPD and to describe the research and clinical literature supporting the use of MPD in patients at all stages of HIV infection. METHODS: Seven studies, case reports, or abstracts from International Conferences on AIDS were available in the English literature through August, 1993, directly addressing the use of MPD in patients with HIV disease. Twenty-nine papers were reviewed for pharmacokinetic data, eighteen for safety and side effects issues, and seventeen for relevant contributions from the neuropsychological testing literature. RESULTS: Studies in clinical settings have used doses ranges from 10-90 mg. per day in two or three divided doses with reportedly good results in improving both affective and cognitive symptoms associated with HIV disease. Side effects have been relatively mild and patient satisfaction with treatment has been high. However, no studies have been conducted in early stage HIV disease, where a significant minority of patients have similar complaints in the absence of clinically apparent immunosuppression. Likewise, placebo-controlled, dose-finding studies in AIDS patients are entirely lacking, and no studies in women with HIV disease and cognitive changes have been published. CONCLUSIONS: In spite of these important research short-comings, clinical experience with MPD treatment of cognitive changes in men with HIV/AIDS is consistent with the notion that this medication holds significant promise to improve the quality of life for persons living with HIV/AIDS. Controlled studies to test this hypothesis are warranted.