Impact of Social Support on Cognitive Symptom Burden in HIV/AIDS

Up to 50 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS report cognitive difficulties, which can be associated with depression and objective neuropsychological impairments. Previous studies have shown an association between stronger social support and lower rates of depression. In the current study, the authors used a cross-sectional design to examine the role social support may play in attenuating the effects of both neuropsychological status and depression on cognitive difficulties.

A total of 357 participants completed neuropsychological tests, questionnaires regarding cognitive difficulties and depression, and an interview that included an assessment of perceived social support level.

Multivariate linear regression analysis showed depression was significantly associated with higher levels of cognitive symptom burden (P<0.05), while greater social support (P<0.01) and higher education levels (P<0.05) were significantly associated with lower levels of cognitive symptom burden. A significant interaction between neuropsychological status and depression (P<0.001) was seen; the presence of neuropsychological impairment with depression was associated with higher levels of cognitive symptom burden. A significant interaction between social support and depression (P<0.05) also was seen. "Interestingly, social support was also associated with a lower cognitive symptom burden for non-depressed individuals living with HIV/AIDS," the authors noted.

"These findings have important clinical implications for promoting psychological well-being in persons living with HIV/AIDS. To improve quality of life, it is important to screen for and identify individuals with HIV/AIDS who may be depressed and to intervene appropriately," concluded the authors. "Further research should examine the potential role of social support interventions in modifying the effects of both depression and neuropsychological status on cognitive symptom burden."