I've been embarrassed before by incidents like this week's. Throughout my adult life, when friends mentioned details from a play or movie we'd recently seen, I’d often draw a blank. Same with books. I’d be stymied to name my 15 most favorite books—a question that’s been making the rounds on social media for a while. I might have trouble simply listing any 15 books I've read.

After the incident this week, I half-jokingly told a friend I needed to find a study that showed you can lose your memory without losing your mind. Then I remembered (!) a bit of information I’d encountered during my research about statins, a medication I’d been taking for a long time to help keep my cholesterol in check. I discovered that memory loss was just one of the drug’s side effects, and I decided to finally ditch the pills.

I've done some additional research, and here's what I found:

The FDA mandates risk warning on labels

Since 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that statin labels include a warning that some people have developed memory loss or confusion while taking statins—a conclusion based on various databases of bad reactions to drugs, and also statin clinical trials that included assessments of cognitive function.

The reports about memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion apply to all statin products and all age groups. However, the FDA also indicates that cognition problems are rare, and that symptoms generally disappear a few weeks after stopping treatment.

Hmmm, I remember the plot of the play I saw at Studio Theatre last week, but don't ask me for the title of the play or the author's name. It's been about two weeks since I stopped taking pravastatin.

Dr. Sidney M. Wolf, director of Public Citizen's health research group, is among those who think statins are overused. He said the FDA's new risk alerts provided more reasons that otherwise healthy people with cholesterol levels less than 240 "should not be taking these drugs."

The elderly are more at risk

This past June, an Australian study found that elderly statin users showed significantly greater decline in memory scores than their peers not taking the drug.

Researchers conducted psychometric testing on 377 subjects aged 70-90 who’d been taking statins for two to 20 years. Those assessments were repeated two and four years later. The team performed the same tests and assessments on 301 patients who had not taken the drug.

The analysis controlled for age, sex, education, smoking, the presence of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and the presence of apolipoprotein E e4 genotype [APOEe4], which increases Alzheimer’s risk.

The Australian scientists found a significantly greater decline in memory scores among statin users on both the two- and four-year tests. But statin use was not associated with greater declines in other cognitive functions like language, visuospatial function, processing, processing speed, or executive function.

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This was just the study report I was hoping to find! It is possible for me to lose my memory but not my mind.

Dissenting opinions

I’ll include the following information if only to pretend I'm being objective.

Other researchers have found no connection between statins and memory loss.

A recent review of earlier research found no evidence that statin use decreases brain power. On the contrary, this study found that statins might actually decrease dementia risk—a conclusion the researchers offered tentatively.

Guess which side of this debate I'm on?