Atrial Fibrillation May Hasten Thinking and Memory Loss

A-fib may cause faster decline in thinking and memory

As we age, problems with memory and thinking become common.

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However, a new study shows that for those who have developed atrial fibrillation (a-fib) — a type of irregular heartbeat — these problems may come on more quickly.

Study finds a-fib link to earlier dementia

University of Alabama researchers tested more than 5,000 people aged 65 and older on their memory and thinking skills every year for an average of seven years.

They found the ones who had developed a-fib were more likely to have lower thinking and memory scores earlier than those with no a-fib history.

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Edward Manno, MD, who did not take part in the study but is a neurologist at Cleveland Clinic, adds: “They did a number of neuron-psychological tests to evaluate whether they’d get dementia over time. What they found is that those patients who had this irregular heartbeat were more likely to get dementia at an earlier age.”

Stroke prevention part of the picture

Mina Chung, MD, was not part of the study but is a cardiologist who specializes in atrial fibrillation at Cleveland Clinic. She says that the study confirms earlier studies associating a-fib with dementia.

Dr. Chung adds that since some dementia is likely caused by silent stroke from clots associated with a-fib, there should be strong motivation for a-fib patients with stroke risk factors to use anticoagulant medications.

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“In these patients we know that anticoagulation effectively reduces the risk of stroke, which can certainly contribute to worsening of brain function,” she says, adding that more studies are needed to determine if anticoagulation meds would reduce cognitive decline and dementia in these at-risk patients.

Keeping both heart and brain healthy

Dr. Manno says that this study is just more evidence that to keep your heart healthy and your blood pressure under control is key to keeping your brain healthy too.

“The blood vessels in the heart and brain are the same,” says Dr. Manno. “They’re located in different organs, but they’re all the same. When you’re doing things to keep your heart healthy, your brain benefits too.”

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