Statins’ potential to slow dementia sparks more research

Registry-based study on statins and cognitive decline in Alzheimer's.

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A recent study led by Karolinska Institutet found that statins, which lower blood fat, might slow Alzheimer’s progression in some patients. People with Alzheimer’s who took statins showed slower cognitive decline. However, it’s an observational study, so causation isn’t confirmed. Researchers view these results cautiously, considering them a first step in ongoing research.

Sara Garcia-Ptacek, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Associate Senior Lecturer at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, and research leader of the current study, said, “People with Alzheimer’s dementia treated with statins had better cognitive development over time. However, the results of the study do not mean that we now have evidence that people with dementia should be treated with statins. But on the other hand, we can’t see any support for not doing so. So, if a person needs statins for high blood lipids, a dementia diagnosis should not stop the treatment.”

Some resistance to prescribing statins for dementia patients exists due to initial safety concerns. A study with 15,500 dementia patients found that nearly 11,000 were treated with statins. Despite having conditions like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, those on statins showed slightly better cognitive test results, challenging initial safety concerns.

Sara Garcia-Ptacek and her team began with a hypothesis that statins might slow dementia. They cast a wide net in their research to find evidence. The study aimed to lay the groundwork for a more focused cohort study, eventually leading to a clinical intervention study necessary to prove a direct link between statins and cognition.

Despite past studies showing no positive effects, the notion that statins might influence dementia risk or progression persists. According to Sara Garcia-Ptacek, they believe only specific Alzheimer’s patients may benefit, and past trials were too small to demonstrate significant differences. 

The focus is identifying which patient groups benefit most before considering more extensive clinical trials. Funding for the research comes from Region Stockholm, the Swedish Research Council, Margareta af Ugglas Foundation, and the private initiative “Innovative ways to fight Alzheimer’s disease – Leif Lundblad Family and others.”

The study’s findings suggest that statins could potentially play a role in slowing dementia progression, igniting enthusiasm for further research. With an emphasis on refining patient selection criteria, the researchers aim to pave the way for more targeted clinical investigations and, ultimately, a better understanding of the link between statins and dementia.

Journal reference:

  1. Petek, B., Häbel, H., Xu, H. et al. Statins and cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s and mixed dementia: a longitudinal registry-based cohort study. Alzheimer’s Research Therapy. DOI: 10.1186/s13195-023-01360-0.

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