Do Statins Really Cause Memory Loss?

In The Wall Street Journal in February 2008, Dr. Orli Etingin, vice chairman of medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center, is quoted as saying that the statin drug Lipitor “makes women stupid.” Dr. Etingin was referring to several cases she has personally seen in which patients taking statins found themselves unable to concentrate, remember words, or otherwise experienced a cognitive deficit. The deficits went away when the statin was stopped, according to Dr. Etingin.

This was not the first time statins had been implicated in memory loss. Numerous anecdotal reports have claimed that taking statins can produce memory loss and cognitive decline and that these problems may be subtle and insidious in onset.

Statins are a category of prescription drugs used to treat high cholesterol. High cholesterol raises the risk of vascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks. Statins, which are beneficial for many people, have known side effects and drug interactions.

Lipitor pills
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Reviewing the Research

In response to such allegations, investigators conducted a careful review of the medical literature and published their results in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2013. These investigators found no association between statins and mental problems.

However, they also admitted that none of the major randomized trials with statins had systematically looked for cognitive decline, which, is said to be subtle when associated with statins. So, they concluded, no definitive statement could be made one way or the other.

Further studies have continued to examine the possible relationship.

  • One large multicenter study, with results published in 2020 did not support an association between statin use and the development of dementia, but suggested a possible association between statin use and cognitive changes in early-stage mild cognitive impairment. The researchers stated that additional randomized trials may be warranted.
  • The most recent data looking at statins and dementia, from the ASPREE trial, published in June 2021, suggests that statin use does not increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. The researchers said that their findings await confirmation from ongoing randomized trials.

At this time, it has not yet been proven that statins either do or do not cause cognitive difficulties. To fully prove this, a prospective randomized trial designed to study the neurocognitive effects of statins is needed.

Waiting for More Research

While we wait for more studies, what should practitioners and patients do about the possibility that statins might sometimes produce memory deficits?

First, keep in mind that even if it turns out that statins can really cause this problem, the incidence appears to be quite low, and apparently the problem is said to be reversible—it seems to go away if statins are stopped.

Second, if you or a loved one are taking a statin and notice some change in cognitive ability, bring it to the attention of the prescribing doctor right away.

Finally, don’t stop taking your statins without talking to your practitioner.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kemp EC, Ebner MK, Ramanan S, Godek TA, Pugh EA, Bartlett HH, McDonald JW, Mecca MC, van Dyck CH, Mecca AP; Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Statin use and risk of cognitive decline in the ADNI cohort. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2020 May;28(5):507-517. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.11.003

  2. Zhou Z, Ryan J, Ernst ME, Zoungas S, Tonkin AM, Woods RL, McNeil JJ, Reid CM, Curtis AJ, Wolfe R, Wrigglesworth J, Shah RC, Storey E, Murray A, Orchard SG, Nelson MR; ASPREE Investigator Group. Effect of statin therapy on cognitive decline and incident dementia in older adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2021 Jun 29;77(25):3145-3156. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2021.04.075

Additional Reading
  • Arvanitakis Z, Schneider JA, Wilson RS, et al. Statins, incident Alzheimer disease, change in cognitive function, and neuropathology. Neurology 2008 DOI:10.1212/01.wnl.0000288181.00826.63.
  • Richardson K, Schoen M, French B, et al.Statins and cognitive function: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Nov 19;159(10):688-97. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-10-201311190-00007.