News | April 27, 2010

Study Shows Link Between Atrial Fibrillation, Dementia

April 27, 2010 – New findings confirm atrial fibrillation (AF) is independently associated with the risk of all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s and other senile and vascular dementia types. According to a study published in the April edition of the HeartRhythm Journal, the official journal of the Heart Rhythm Society, the presence of AF indicated higher mortality rates in all dementia subtypes. However, mortality risk was most prominent in the youngest population studied.

The study evaluated 37,025 patients from the Intermountain Heart Collaborative Study database between the ages of 60 and 90 years over a five-year period. The study population included all patients who were seen by cardiologists for the development of atrial fibrillation and different types of dementia including vascular, senile, Alzheimer’s and other nonspecified types. During the study, a total of 10,161 patients (27 percent) developed AF and 1,535 (4.1 percent) developed dementia. Researchers also assessed the impact of AF on mortality risk in those patients diagnosed with dementia.

Study findings revealed AF is independently associated with all dementia types and, across all dementia states, cognitive decline occurred earlier in patients with AF versus no AF. Among the 764 patients who developed both AF and dementia, AF developed first, or in some cases simultaneously with dementia diagnosis. Most notably, the greatest risk of dementia was seen in the youngest AF patient group (less than 70 years old). Furthermore, the greatest increased risk of mortality was also observed in the youngest patient group.

“While age remains the strongest risk factor for dementia, our study shows the highest risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia types was most prominent in the youngest AF patient group,” said lead author T. Jared Bunch, M.D., heart rhythm specialist, Intermountain Medical Center, Murray, Utah. “This finding is significant in establishing the association between dementia and AF and could potentially help clinicians monitor patients more closely for signs of dementia and mortality risks.”

With more than 2 million people in the United States diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, this study is an important step toward improving prevention and overall patient care. Further research may establish treatment methods for AF patients living with dementia and help reduce the mortality risk.

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