MAYBE STATINS SHOULD BE GIVEN TO TRY TO PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S. Dr. Zissimopoulos identifies the problems with not following FDA requirements for clinical tests before prescribing statins for the prevention of Alzheimer’s: “Some people with a family history of Alzheimer’s might be tempted to ask their doctors to prescribe a statin now on the basis of preclinical trial evidence. But that is mostly a nonstarter. Many physicians are rightly reluctant to prescribe drugs for off-label, unapproved indications, and insurance companies often refuse to cover the use of drugs for them.”
Skipping clinical trials might reduce the number of Alzheimer’s cases, but it would interfere with the search for scientific knowledge. (One can think of a number of other variables which could explain the apparent success of statins in this study.)
Nevertheless, I can imagine a number of individual patients and their doctors making the decision to take a statin. And there is also a case for further widespread experiments—and not necessarily clinical trials.
A benefit-cost analysis might well show that a widespread experiment would be worthwhile. Alzheimer’s is a very common, very expensive, and very destructive disease, and, as Dr. Zissimopoulos emphasizes, statins are not expensive drugs.
Finally, more large scale studies like this should be done on other drugs. As Dr. Zissimopoulos points out: “Troves of data in the form of electronic medical records and insurance claims now exist for drugs that have been in use for many years.”
(Disclosure: I have taken statins for years and Alzheimer’s runs in my family so I have a rooting interest.)