In a new study, researchers found that a common heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation (AF) is linked to an increased risk of dementia.
The effect exists even in people who have not suffered a stroke.
They also found that AF patients who took oral anticoagulants to prevent blood clots had a decreased risk of dementia.
The research was conducted by a team of Korean scientists.
Atrial fibrillation (an irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat) is the most common heart rhythm problem among elderly people.
More than half of AF patients are aged 80 or older. The condition can increase the risk of stroke, other medical problems, and death.
Older people have a higher risk of AF, and there has been some evidence that AF may contribute to the development of thinking problems and dementia.
In the new study, the team examined 262,611 people aged 60 or over, who were free of AF and dementia in 2004.
The researchers collected data from the Korea National Health Insurance Service Senior cohort and followed the participants until the end of 2013.
The found that during that time, 10,435 of people were diagnosed with AF.
In those people, 24.4% developed dementia during the follow-up period compared to 14.4% who developed dementia among the people without AF.
This means the people who developed AF had a 50% increased risk of developing dementia compared with those who did not develop the condition.
this increased risk remained even in those who didn’t suffer a stroke.
The team also found that AF increased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 30% and more than doubled the risk of vascular dementia.
But the risk could be reduced by taking oral anticoagulants, such as warfarin, or non-vitamin K anticoagulants, such as dabigatran, rivaroxaban, apixaban or edoxaban.
In AF patients who took the drugs, the risk of developing dementia reduced by 40% compared with patients who did not take anticoagulants.
This the largest study to test the link between AF and dementia in people aged 60 and over who did not have AF and had not suffered a stroke at the time of inclusion in the study.
One author of the study is Professor Boyoung Joung, professor of cardiology and internal medicine at Yonsei University College of Medicine.
The study is published in the European Heart Journal.
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