A study of more than 1,000 older Australians indicates that the use of statins isn’t associated with memory decline or loss of cognitive function.
If anything, the commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs might even protect people who are at risk of developing dementia.
Statins are one of the most widely prescribed medications in Australia because of their proven benefits in preventing and reducing the risk of death from a heart attack and stroke.
However there have been individual case reports from overseas linking them to cognitive decline in some patients.
Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW say they now have evidence that should help allay widespread concerns about the medication.
Most comprehensive study to date
Lead author Professor Katherine Samaras, a senior researcher at the Garvan Institute and an endocrinologist at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, says the study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cognition in older statin users ever carried out.
“When you drill down into memory function in older people who are taking statin medications we couldn’t find a link between the medications and memory decline over a six year period,” she told Community Care Review.
“What was unique about our research is that we were probably one of the few studies to put in all the co-variants that can promote memory loss – heart disease, obesity, blood pressure, past stroke, Alzheimer genes.
“All of that was factored in so that when you remove all of those other things that can promote memory loss, we couldn’t actually find any impact from statins. So this is really reassuring for people who take statin medications, and for doctors who prescribe statin medications.”
The research team looked at 1,037 community-dwelling people aged between 70 and 90 years. They tested five areas of cognition and memory over six years, and measured brain volumes over two years using MRI scans.
“Over six years there was no difference in the rate of decline in memory or global cognition between statin users and never users,” the study concludes.
In fact, commencing statin use during the observation period was associated with “blunting the rate of memory decline”, it states.
Reducing vascular dementia
Professor Samaras said the benefits may come from the ability of statins to manage cardiovascular risk, which in turn protects against vascular dementia.
“If you have high blood pressure you have to be on top of that so you don’t get those tiny little micro strokes that cause vascular dementia,” she told CCR.
“If you have heart disease, the heart disease has to be monitored very well in terms of cholesterol and blood pressure and exercise and weight.
“Those things will help protect the blood vessels which go to the brain, which again contributes to vascular dementia associated with heart disease.
“It’s about managing all of these cardiovascular risk factors… for healthy brains in the long term, which will allow people to live independently.
Professor Samaras said a comparison between the people in the study who used statins and those who didn’t showed no difference in change in memory or cognition and no difference in terms of brain volume.
She said while the findings couldn’t be considered conclusive, they added to mounting evidence that statins are safe in relation to brain health.
The research is published in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology .
It drew on data from the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study which has been looking at ageing and cognition, and predictions and protectors for dementia since 2005, and is one of the largest longitudinal studies of its kind.