TUESDAY, May 10, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin (Lipitor) may help boost thinking ability and psychiatric symptoms in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, according to preliminary research.
This small study included 67 Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients who received either atorvastatin or placebo. Sixty-three of the patients were evaluated after three months, 56 at six months, 48 at nine months, and 46 at the one-year point.
The patients were evaluated using standard measures of cognitive function, psychiatric symptoms, and ability to navigate common activities of daily living. The researchers also tested for changes in blood cholesterol levels.
Researchers at the Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz., conducted the study on the hypothesis that amyloid-beta protein deposits in the brain -- a hallmark of AD -- also encourage higher levels of cholesterol in the blood. Previous studies have also suggested that prior use of cholesterol-busting statin drugs may lower risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life.
"We have found that daily administration of 80 mg of atorvastatin calcium significantly reduces circulating cholesterol levels and may have a positive effect on the progressive deterioration of cognitive function and behavior anticipated in mild to moderate AD," the researchers conclude.
"As a pilot proof-of-concept study, significant differences were not expected, but benefits identified tend to support the trial's rationale," the authors wrote.
Two large multicenter trials are currently under way to further investigate possible benefits of atorvastatin treatment in Alzheimer's patients.
The study was funded by the Institute for the Study of Aging, the Estee Lauder Charitable Trust, and Pfizer, Inc., the maker of Lipitor.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has information about drug treatments for Alzheimer's disease.