Increasing evidence indicates that atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common type of arrhythmia, is associated with cognitive dysfunction. Oral anticoagulants and antiplatelets are the medications used most often to prevent blood clots from forming, traveling to the brain, and causing a stroke. Now a study published in Neurology finds that anticoagulants may also help protect cognitive function and delay the onset of dementia in these patients.
Swedish investigators explored the incidence of dementia in 2,263 cognitively intact individuals 60 or older (mean age, 73). Participants who either had AF at baseline (9.1 percent) or developed it during the six-year follow-up period (11.4 percent) not only experienced a faster decline in cognitive function than their peers without AF, they were also at increased risk of developing dementia, but not Alzheimer’s disease specifically. However, those with AF who were treated with anticoagulant medication (but not antiplatelets) had a 60 percent lower risk of dementia.
The authors say their findings suggest that, in older adults, AF is associated with an increased risk of dementia and a faster decline in cognitive function. They write that although further research is needed, their evidence suggests that anticoagulant drugs may help prevent dementia in older adults with AF.