Summary: Two recent studies do not show that aspirin helps memory loss. The painkiller may increase the risk of bleeding in the brain.
When my father first complained about his memory, his doctor told him to take a baby aspirin every day. After seeing headlines like “An aspirin a day to keep Alzheimer’s away?” I thought this was good advice.
Aspirin is one of several NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that have been tested for prevention or treatment of memory loss. Results from two recent studies make it less likely your doctor will recommend the drug for memory loss.
In the first study, a trial of low-dose aspirin for prevention of heart disease and cancer in women over 65, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University tested the memory of the 6000 participants. Low dose aspirin taken over a period of ten years did not benefit the women’s overall memory.
The second study was part of the AD2000 Collaborative Group research. In this trial, half of 310 people with Alzheimer’s took low-dose aspirin every day, half were told to avoid the painkiller. There was no placebo in this study. “Although aspirin is commonly used in dementia, in patients with typical AD 2 years of treatment with low-dose aspirin has no worthwhile benefit and increases the risk of serious bleeds,” the researchers concluded.
Given these recent studies, are there situations where doctors may still recommend aspirin for memory loss? Yes, says Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, Director of the Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins University and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. “If the aspirin is being used for heart or brain vascular disease, that might prevent the worsening of cognition or dementia,” he explains.
This was not the case for my father. After he took aspirin for a few years, his MRIs showed bleeding in his brain, and he died of a hemorrhagic stroke. It’s hard to say how much the aspirin contributed to his dementia and death. But it’s safe to say if you’re considering taking aspirin for memory loss, check with your doctor.
In my next post, I’ll talk with Dr. Lyketsos about some of the other NSAIDs and memory loss.