Even among those who have not experienced a stroke people with atrial fibrillation tend to have faster cognitive decline. It is an irregular heart rhythm caused by chaotic electrical signals, which are generated in the atria (chambers) of the heart. It raises the risk of blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular complications.
Researchers already knew that dementia risk is much higher in people with stroke and AF, but few of them set out to determine whether AF patients who had not experienced a stroke might suffer from faster cognitive impairment. This means that people with AF may, on average, reach a state of significant cognitive impairment or dementia at earlier ages than people without atrial it.
The team set out to determine whether atrial fibrillation patients with no history of it had more rapid cognitive decline after diagnosis. Cognitive decline directs to problems with memory or thinking. The researchers gathered and examined data on about 5,000 seniors registered. They were given a 100-point thinking and memory test annually for seven years (average). During that period 11% of them developed AF.
The researchers found that:
• Patients whose AF was diagnosed when they were 80 had a drop of 10-point in their cognitive scores during the following five years.
• Patients of the same age without AF had a decline of 6-point in their cognitive scores.
• According to people’s age the rates of decline in test scored were different.
The researchers believe that there are at least two possible explanations for their findings. The first is that small blood clots that form in the heart and then lodge in the brain, and do not cause any immediate symptoms, but lead to damage over time. The other finding is that low output of blood to the brain from the irregular heartbeat may lead to small brain damage that builds up over time.
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