Heart Meds and Healthy Minds

Statins and cognition connection explored in new review as possible dementia protection found

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Statins, a type of medication used to lower cholesterol, recently underwent some label changes. This caused some confusion about a potential association with cognition problems, including short-term memory loss.

In a new report, researchers reviewed previous studies that involved the two factors — cognition and statin use — to explore this issue of memory loss.

In their review, the researchers found that statins did not affect cognition or short-term memory, and these medications may even protect against dementia in the long-term.

"Talk to a pharmacist if you have questions about a prescription."

According to the study authors — who were led by Kristopher Swiger, MD, of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland — in February 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued changes in the labeling of statin medications, which include Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor. Issues like memory loss and confusion were mentioned as possible effects of these drugs by the FDA.

Progressive dementias, like Alzheimer's disease, were not included in the label warnings. Dementia is a term to describe a variety of issues related to brain function, including memory, language, cognitive skills and behavior.

To examine this, Dr. Swiger and colleagues utilized a variety of databases, including MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Central Register, to identify studies. The identified studies accounted for over 23,000 participants, none of whom had a history of cognitive dysfunction prior to their participation. Both long-term and short-term studies were identified and analyzed.

In the three short-term studies reviewed that relied on Digit Symbol Substitution Testing, a common way to measure cognitive function, 296 participants were involved. None of these studies showed a significant difference in cognition between participants using statins and participants not using the medication in the short-term.

Eight long-term studies accounted for 23,443 patients who were followed for anywhere from 3 to 24.9 years. Three of these studies found no association between statin use and development of dementia, and five of the studies actually found a favorable relationship — meaning that statin use was associated with a reduced risk of dementia.

After analyzing this risk, Dr. Swiger and colleagues found, overall, a 29 percent lower incidence of dementia in patients who used statins when compared to those who did not.

The review authors noted that in the majority of examined studies, memory loss was measured based on self-reports from the participants. Furthermore, there could be a variety of other contributing factors, like coexisting conditions and other medications used, that were not explored.

However, the review authors concluded that their findings should help ease confusion and concerns regarding statin use and cognition.

"At present, patients and physicians can be reassured about concerns related to neurocognitive effects of statin therapy, and the evidence does not support a change to practice guidelines," Dr. Swiger and colleagues concluded.

This review was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings on October 1. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
September 30, 2013
Last Updated:
October 1, 2013