Cholesterol-Lowering Drug Reduces Dementia Risk by 70%
Clinical trials, which would establish the facts, are difficult and very expensive to do, Neil Buckholtz, PhD, tells WebMD. "We estimate prevention trials probably cost $7 to $11 million per year over five to seven years. Nonetheless, perhaps a prevention trial on statins should be considered." Buckholtz is chief of the dementias of aging branch of the National Institute on Aging.
It is way too soon for doctors to prescribe statins for their possible preventive effect on dementia. "We've never suggested that people should start using medications based just on [population, rather than clinical studies]," Buckholtz says. "We have to wait for more data. For those people who are already taking statins, it may reduce their risk of dementia, or it may not. We just don't know at this point."
Statins are prescription drugs, Drachman notes, and should only be taken under supervision of a doctor. "They are very good drugs when taken for the right reasons, but like any medications, they have possible side effects and require monitoring. Statins can affect the liver and lead to muscle pain and weakness; this is rare, but it does occur," Drachman says.
People who are considering taking a statin medication for borderline cholesterol levels and who have a family history of Alzheimer's disease should discuss their particular situation with their own doctor, says Michael Freedman, MD.
"If a 20-year-old with a cholesterol level of 201 wanted to start taking statins, I'd tell him he's out of his mind. But for someone who has borderline high cholesterol levels, this might be an additional factor to take into account. It depends exactly what the family risk factors for Alzheimer's may be." Freedman is professor of medicine and geriatric medicine and director of the Diane and Arthur Belfer Geriatric Center at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.
If your parents were diagnosed at 70 with Alzheimer's disease, then you may want to take steps to lower your lipid levels and lower your blood pressure, among other things, Freedman says. But statins are a new medication, and no one knows what their effect would be if you took them for a very long time. "If your parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer's at 96, I'm not sure you doctor would want to prescribe statins, because you already have longevity in your family, and we have no idea what the effect of this drug may be over 50 years," he says.