Cognitive effects of statin medications

Brendan J. Kelley, Stephen Glasser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The demonstrated benefits of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors (statins) for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease are well established in the medical literature, and this class of medications is among those most commonly prescribed in the USA. In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration issued updated recommendations regarding statin medications, and the panel's comments regarding memory impairment fostered clinical confusion (in part because of the lay media's amplification). Cognitive data from several large epidemiological studies have not reliably demonstrated a robust association between incident cognitive impairment and statin use, with some studies reporting a protective effect, some reporting an increased risk and others finding no association. Although several interventional studies have evaluated statins as a possible adjunctive treatment for Alzheimer's disease, none have clearly demonstrated a benefit. A small number of case series have reported infrequent memory difficulties associated with statin use. In these series, the patients' cognitive symptoms resolved after statin discontinuation. The existing medical literature does not suggest that cognitive considerations should play a major role in medical decision making to prescribe statins for the large majority of patients. As with any medication prescribed for older adults, careful clinical monitoring for side effects should be exercised. If a patient is suspected of having idiosyncratic memory impairment associated with use of a statin medication, the drug can be discontinued. The patient should then be followed with careful clinical observation for 1-3 months for resolution of the cognitive symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-419
Number of pages9
JournalCNS Drugs
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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