Older heart patients who have an irregular heartbeat — atrial fibrillation — are more likely to experience a loss of mental abilities and the capacity to live independently, new research shows.
The findings, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, highlight the need for doctors to check heart patients for “cognitive and functional measures” to gauge their risks, researchers said.
The study – by the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario -- analyzed information from two research projects involving 31,506 patients from 733 health centers in 40 countries. Patients were aged 55 years or older, with heart disease or diabetes and some organ damage from the disease.
The researchers found more than a third of patients with irregular heartbeats were more likely to suffer dementia, be admitted to a long-term care facility or otherwise lose their ability to live independently and perform day-to-day tasks. That compared to about a quarter of patients without irregular heartbeats.
"Our study provides prospective evidence that atrial fibrillation increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, independent of clinically overt stroke and baseline cognitive function," wrote the authors. "We also saw a significant association between atrial fibrillation and functional decline (loss of independence with activities of daily living) and the need for long-term care."