Statins do not accelerate memory loss: Research

Evelyn Lewin

19/11/2019 3:59:49 PM

A new study found no difference in the rate of decline in memory or global cognition between statin users and those who never used them.

A blister pack of statins.
The study found statins did not contribute to accelerated memory loss.

‘People taking statins did not have accelerated memory loss. In fact, over all of the cognitive domains that we measured, statins appeared to have no impact at all.’
That is Professor Katherine Samaras, Head of the Clinical Obesity, Nutrition and Adipose Biology laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and lead author of a new paper exploring the link between statin use and memory loss.
Professor Samaras told newsGP the inspiration for this study struck while her team was looking at the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study to see what happened to the brains of people with diabetes.
‘When we were looking through the study participants we thought, “Many of these patients take statin medications. We should look at statins and memory because of the concerns in the media and from consumers that maybe statins are associated with memory loss”,’ she said.
Those concerns flared in 2012, when a statement by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated ‘memory loss and confusion have been reported with statin use’.
‘We had meticulously collected data, and the question is important. We thought, “Why don’t we interrogate as well as we can?”’ Professor Samaras said.
The research, a prospective observational study of 1037 community-dwelling Australians aged 70–90 (the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study), was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
It examined the association between statin use and changes in memory and global cognition in the elderly population over six years.
Interactions between statin use and known dementia risk factors were examined, with assessments made across five cognitive domains among the 395 participants who had never taken statins and the 642 who had.
Professor Samaras said those assessments included ‘rigorous’ formal neuropsychological tests.
‘This was not a simple mini-mental state examination [MMSE] that took five minutes,’ she said.
‘There were five comprehensive tests of different types of memory alone amongst a battery of tests that looked at executive function, language, attention, processing, and global cognition.
‘All participants had their cognition comprehensively evaluated.’
Brain MRIs were also performed on more than 500 people, at baseline and again two years later to measure brain volume, specifically areas associated with memory such as the hippocampus and the para-hippocampal region.
Professor Samaras noted there have been ‘numerous’ studies in the past that explored the possible link between statin use and memory decline. However, she said that, unlike in this new study, the majority of those studies did not comprehensively include and adjust for covariates that can promote cognitive decline or were dementia risk factors.

Professor-Samaras-Article.jpgThe study’s lead author, Professor Katherine Samaras, hopes this new research will offer reassurance to prescribers and consumers of statins.

‘We had detailed information on blood pressure, blood pressure medications, heart disease, diabetes, whether people smoked or not, what their weight was,’ she said.
Professor Samaras was ‘relieved’ by the study’s findings.
‘I’m a diabetologist,’ she said. ‘Many of my patients require statin medication and the evidence is very strong that they benefit from them.
‘But when they say to me, “I think the statin makes me stupid,” I worry: is it the statin that I’m prescribing?
‘Or could it be some other factor?’
Professor Samaras hopes this new research will offer reassurance to other prescribers of statins, including GPs.
‘For people prescribing statin medications, our study gives [them] some more evidence that they can discuss with their patients,’ she said.
‘It reassures us as prescribers … that perhaps the statin case reports of reversible memory change are very, very unique individuals and not a general effect that can be seen across a broader population.
‘It gives us reassurance that maybe statins are not as scary as some of the case reports suggest.’
In light of these findings, Professor Samaras believes it is imperative for healthcare providers to look beyond statin use as a possible cause of cognitive decline.
‘If your patient is complaining of memory loss and they’re worried it’s their statin, take them seriously,’ said Professor Samaras.
‘It probably isn’t their statin causing such decline.’
In these cases, Professor Samaras recommends looking beyond statins to explore what could be behind such changes.
‘That’s a really important message,’ she said.
‘If it’s not the statin, what is it? And where can we go from there?’

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