Common Lipid-Lowering Drugs observed to protect against dementia

November 9, 2000

WORCESTER, Mass.- People aged 50 or over could be 70% less likely to develop dementia if they are prescribed lipid-lowering drugs called statins, concludes research published in the November 11, 2000 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet. Authors of the study include David A. Drachman, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Hershel Jick, MD, of the Boston University School of Medicine's Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program.

Dementia affects an estimated 10% of the population older than 65 years. Because vascular and lipid-related mechanisms are thought to have a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, Drachman, Jick, et al, did an epidemiological study of the potential effect of statins and other lipid-lowering agents (LLAs) on dementia.

The investigators obtained information from 368 practices that contribute to the United Kingdom-based General Practice Research Database. The base study population included three groups of patients age 50 and older: all individuals who had received lipid-lowering agents (LLAs); all individuals with a clinical diagnosis of untreated hyperlipidemia; and a randomly selected group of other individuals. From this base population, all cases with a clinical diagnosis of dementia were identified. Each case was matched with up to four controls derived from the base population on age, sex, practice, and index date of case. The study encompassed 284 patients with dementia and 1,080 matched controls. Among controls, 13% had untreated hyperlipidemia; 11% were prescribed statins; 7% other LLAs; and 69% had no hyperlipidemia or LLA exposure.

Patients prescribed statins were approximately 70% less likely to have dementia compared with people who had no diagnosis of hyperlipidemia or exposure to other lipid-lowering drugs. Patients treated with non-statin LLAs, and individuals with untreated hyperlipidemia, did not have a significantly reduced risk of dementia.

According to the authors, "If substantiated, the implications of this observational study are considerable. These findings suggest that the use of statins could substantially reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly, either by delaying its onset, or by opposing specific or general age-related changes that result in cognitive impairment. We are aware of the substantial potential consequences of this publication, and that our data should be replicated by additional studies. Given the potential impact of this study, additional studies of acceptable quality are urgently needed".

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