Chicago—Could statins one day have an expanded indication to protect against Parkinsonism in older adults? A new study posits that could be the case.

The research published online in the journal Neurology suggests that older patients prescribed statins have a reduced chance of developing parkinsonism, which is a group of neurological conditions that cause movement problems, including tremors, slowed movement, and stiffness, most notably Parkinson's disease.

"Our results suggest people using statins may have a lower risk of parkinsonism and that may be partly caused by the protective effect statins may have on arteries in the brain," explained study author Shahram Oveisgharan, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Our results are exciting because movement problems in older adults that come under the umbrella of parkinsonism are common, often debilitating and generally untreatable."

Included in the study were 2,841 patients with an average age of 76 years who did not have parkinsonism at the start of the study. Of those, 936 people (33%) were taking statins, which are primarily used to lower cholesterol in the blood and protect against atherosclerosis. The participants had a follow-up with the study team annually for an average of 6 years to verify their statin usage and to test for indications of parkinsonism.

The patients were deemed to have parkinsonism if they met the requirement for mild impairment for two or more of the following symptoms: tremor, stiffness, parkinsonian gait, which is marked by small shuffling steps and a general slowness of movement, and bradykinesia (difficulty moving the body quickly on command).

The authors reported that—by the end of the study—50% had developed signs of parkinsonism. Out of 936 people taking statins, 45% developed parkinsonism 6 years later, compared with 53% of those who had not been taking statins.

Even after controlling for age, sex, and vascular risks such as smoking and diabetes, which could affect the risk of parkinsonism, the researchers determined that people who had been on statins had, on average, a 16% lower risk of developing parkinsonism 6 years later compared with those who had not been on the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

In addition, with about 79% of people on statin therapy using moderate- or high-intensity formulations, the authors noted that patients taking high-intensity statins had a 7% lower risk of developing parkinsonism compared with those on low-intensity statins.

When examining the brains of 1,044 participants who died during the study, researchers found that those who had been using statins had, on average, 37% lower odds of having atherosclerosis compared with those who had not been using statins.

"More research is needed, but statins could be a therapeutic option in the future to help reduce the effects of parkinsonism in the general population of older adults, not just people with high cholesterol or who are at risk for stroke," Dr. Oveisgharan stated. "At a minimum, our study suggests brain scans or vascular testing may be beneficial for older adults who show signs of parkinsonism but don't have classic signs of Parkinson's disease or do not respond to Parkinson's disease medications."

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