August 30, 2011
Science Daily/Group Health Research Institute
The most common kind of chronically irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, is associated with a greater risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study.
"Both atrial fibrillation and dementia increase with age," said Sascha Dublin, MD, PhD, a Group Health Research Institute assistant investigator who led the research. "Before our prospective cohort study, we knew that atrial fibrillation can cause stroke, which can lead to dementia. Now we've learned that atrial fibrillation may increase dementia risk in other, more subtle ways as well."
The results of Dr. Dublin's study suggest a relationship between atrial fibrillation and dementia beyond the connection through stroke. The people in the study had a mean age of 74 years when the study began. None had dementia or a history of stroke. At the beginning of the study, 4.3 percent had atrial fibrillation, and an additional 12.2 percent developed it during the study.
In the course of the study, 18.8 percent developed some type of dementia. People with atrial fibrillation were more likely to have other cardiovascular risk factors and disease than were those without the condition. So the researchers looked to see if atrial fibrillation increased dementia risk more than just through its association with other kinds of heart disease.