Department: Ask the Experts
Answers to your questions about arteriovenous malformation, body myositis, hydrocephalus, and the effect of statins on memory.
Gail Li, M.D., Ph.D., and Eric Petrie, M.D., both teach psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Dr. Li is also an investigator at the UW Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.
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Q My short-term memory has suffered seriously in the past 8 to 12 months. I've heard that statins—which I am currently taking—can affect memory, but my neurologist says otherwise. I have also heard that people with Alzheimer's who take statins have fewer problems than people who don't. So exactly how do statins affect memory?
A There have been very few reports of statins (drugs used to lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart attacks) causing memory problems. Also, studies have shown that these drugs may actually reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. A brain autopsy study that we recently worked on, for example, found that neurofibrillary tangles—one of the distinctive abnormalities seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer's—were less common in the people who took a statin than in those who had never taken one. However, we do not yet have enough evidence to recommend the use of statins to treat or prevent Alzheimer's.
If you continue to experience memory problems, you may need a more careful neurological examination to check for other disorders that might be affecting your memory. If no other cause is identified, your neurologist could recommend that you stop taking statins for one to three months to see whether this makes a difference. If your memory improves while off statins, you may be one of those rare people with an unusual reaction to these drugs. Switching the type of statin you take may also have an effect.