Upper and Lower Limb Motor Impairments in Alcoholism, HIV Infection, and Their Comorbidity


  • This work was supported by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, AA12999, AA05965, and AA10723.

  • A portion of this research was presented at the International Neuropsychological Society Conference, 2006, Boston, MA.

Reprint requests: Edith V. Sullivan, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine (MC5723), 401 Quarry Road, Stanford, CA 94305-5723; Fax: 650-859-2743; E-mail: edie@stanford.edu


Background: Both HIV infection and alcoholism can impair motor abilities involving manual dexterity and postural stability. Given the high prevalence of HIV and alcoholism comorbidity, we examined whether each disease selectively disrupts different components of upper and lower limb motor control and whether these impairments are compounded by disease comorbidity.

Methods: Simple and complex upper (speed and finger dexterity) and lower (static posture) limb functions were tested in 31 men with HIV infection, 27 with alcoholism, 43 comorbid for HIV infection and alcoholism, and 22 normal healthy controls to assess whether comorbid patients would demonstrate greater motor impairment relative to those with a single diagnosis.

Results: Individuals with HIV infection and those with alcoholism had impaired upper and lower limb motor function. Disease comorbidity compounded deficits in speeded finger movement. Neither Beck Depression Inventory scores, self-reported peripheral neuropathy, nor HIV medication accounted for group differences. Lower limb motor composite scores with eyes open were correlated with upper limb motor scores in the alcoholism group.

Conclusions: Overall, the observed impairment patterns indicate the presence of upper and lower limb motor impairment in both HIV infection and alcoholism and the relevance of alcoholism in exacerbating impairment in speeded fine finger movement, when it occurs in HIV infection.