Mental Capacity Not Affected by Cholesterol or Blood Pressure Drugs (AHA 2016)

December 20, 2016

A hand in front of a chalk board drawing of a human brain
With populations aging in much of the world, the decline of mental capacity in later years is of increasing concern. There has been hope in the medical community that effectively treating high blood pressure and atherosclerosis could slow or delay this decline.

In a study of people over the age of 70 taking either blood pressure medication or statins for the prevention of heart disease, neither drug slowed cognitive decline during treatment. These results, presented at the American Heart Association 2016 Scientific Sessions, were disappointing for researchers looking to delay or even prevent the cognitive decline that comes with aging. 

However, the findings were encouraging in one respect. There have been persistent concerns among patients and regulators that the use of statins to control cholesterol could negatively impact cognitive function and memory. The study, called HOPE-3, found that the patients taking statins did not have a larger decline in cognitive ability than other participants. 

The trial randomly assigned patients to receive either one of three drug regimens (combination blood pressure medication, a statin, or both) or to corresponding placebo groups. At the beginning and end of the study, 1,626 older adults completed several questionnaires and tests of mental processing speed and cognitive function.

While participants in all groups experienced a decline in cognitive function over the time of the study, there was no difference in the amount of this decline between treatment or placebo groups. 

Data from the trial seemed to suggest that there might be some prevention of cognitive decline in patients with the highest blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels at the start of the study, but this would need to be confirmed in other trials, said Jackie Bosch, PhD, of McMaster University, who presented the study results at AHA.

Dr. Bosch indicated that the results of this and other recent studies should put to rest concerns about statins and cognitive decline. “We have the data…that show that there is no adverse effect of statins” on cognition, she concluded.