Statin use not linked to memory or cognitive decline in the elderly, study reports

Written by Heather Jones, Assistant Editor

Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research (Sydney, Australia) and the Centre for Healthy Brain Aging at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) have indicated that there is no difference in the rate of memory or cognitive decline in elderly statin users compared with never users. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that statins may even protect against memory decline.

The team examined changes in memory and global cognition regarding the use of statins in 1037 elderly individuals over a 6-year period.

Participants’ medication and duration of use were categorized as statin ever use versus never use, continuous statin use during observation versus never use, specific statins (simvastatin, pravastatin and atorvastatin) versus never use and statin initiation during observation period versus never use.

The participants were aged between 70 and 90 years and included 395 statin never users and 642 statin ever users, including those at baseline and the 99 individuals who commenced taking statins during the study period. Participants had been on statins for an average of 9 years.

Researchers developed a comprehensive assessment of global cognition and memory to measure their primary endpoints. This involved five multifaceted memory tests to asses new learning and short- and long-term recall. Global cognition tests evaluated memory with processing speed, language, visuospacial ability and executive function. Several patients (529) also had MRI scans at baseline with 408 undergoing a repeat 2 years later.

Statin ever users and never users were observed to have similar brain volumes at baseline with no significant difference 2 years later.

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The results of the cognitive assessment demonstrated statin ever users to be similar to never users at baseline, with no significant difference in rate of decline. Further, participants with continuous statin use had a significantly higher baseline cognitive performance compared with never users. Researchers indicated that initiation of statin use was associated with a decrease in the rate of decline of memory. Overall, no correlation between statin use and cognitive decline was observed throughout the 6-year period.

A protective interaction was also reported among patients with heart disease, with statin ever users displaying a slower rate of decline in learning memory compared with never users. Further, researchers indicated that statin use slowed down cognitive decline in patients carrying the APOE4 genotype, who are at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Katherine Samaras (St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia), who is the study’s lead author, commented: “Our findings demonstrate how crucial a healthy metabolism is to brain function, and how therapies can modulate this to promote healthy ageing.”

“These findings will hopefully go a long way toward reducing consumers’ concerns about memory and cognition from statins, so they don’t stop taking these lifesaving medications,” Samaras added.

Senior author of the study, Perminder Sachdev (Centre for Healthy Brain Aging), concluded: “In this study our data reassuringly suggests that the use of statins to lower cholesterol levels is not likely to adversely affect memory function. Since it is an observational study, the findings should not be considered conclusive. However, the evidence is mounting that statins are safe in relation to brain health and this concern should not preclude their use in individuals who are likely to benefit from lower cholesterol levels.”

Sources: American College of Cardiology. Statins not associated with memory of cognition decline in elderly, may be protection in some patients. Press release: www.acc.org; Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Research reveals no link between statins and memory loss. Press release: www.garvan.org.au