Statins & Cognitive Impairment

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson discusses how statins, which are used to treat high cholesterol, are or are not linked to cognitive impairment. We will look at research both for and against the claims of cognitive impairment when taking statins.

Memory Loss and High Cholesterol

Jan's family had always had issues with heart disease and high cholesterol levels, so she talked to her doctor about how she could reduce her risk. The doctor prescribed a statin, which is a medication designed to lower cholesterol levels and would help Jan reduce her risk of heart problems. She took the new medicine as her doctor ordered, and she happily found out at follow up appointments that her cholesterol numbers were decreasing.

Then Jan noticed an article on her computer news feed suggesting that some research indicated that statin use could cause cognitive impairment. This worried her, so she called her primary care physician to discuss with him whether or not she should stop taking the medication. She was told to continue taking the medication until her next appointment. Jan hoped that this appointment with the doctor would calm her fears.

What is Cognitive Impairment?

Jan doesn't know what cognitive impairment is, so her doctor talks to her about how she can recognize it. He tells her that cognitive impairment is when someone has difficulty making concrete decisions, forgets frequently, has difficulty focusing, and/or has trouble learning new concepts. He says that even if she has all of these symptoms, it doesn't mean that she is cognitively impaired. They would need to do some cognitive testing to make sure.

Do Statins Cause Cognitive Impairment?

At this point, Jan's doctor began telling her all that the research said about statins and how they affect cognitive functioning. First of all, there is no conclusive research that statins cause any type of cognitive impairment. There was one study conducted with rats that showed some cognitive slowing from one type of statin. However, he told Jan, there were also other studies suggesting that statins actually increased cognitive functioning.

So, what is the truth? Jan wanted to know. Her doctor told her that many studies had been conducted (more than 50) looking into this very problem. He said that when a research team looked at all of the studies together, something called a meta-study, they found that there was no link between taking statins and cognitive impairment or development.

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