An Offbeat Heart May Mess With the Mind

Atrial fibrillation linked to mild cognitive impairments in older patients

(RxWiki News) Heart problems are common among older people. According to recent research, older people with an offbeat heart may also have thinking problems.

A recent study found that cognitive impairments were common in older patients hospitalized for atrial fibrillation. This finding suggests that physicians routinely assess mental function along with cardiac function in these patients.

"Make sure atrial fibrillation is treated and monitored."

Jocasta Ball, of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues led a study to examine cognitive functioning in older hospitalized patients with atrial fibrillation.

The study included 260 hospitalized patients with atrial fibrillation. The average age was 72 and 53 percent were male. Patients' cognitive functioning was measured using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. Scores for this test range from 0 to 30. A score of 25 or less is an indication of mild cognitive impairments.

Information about the patients' education and medical history was also collected. Patients were excluded from the study if they had any severe thinking impairments

Researchers found that 65 percent of the patients had mild cognitive impairments. These patients had an average score of 21 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

Impairments included problems with executive functioning, visual spatial abilities and short term memory. Executive functioning includes tasks such as planning and organizing. Having low visual spatial abilities can create problems with self-care and social relationships.    

Study authors commented that patients at risk for mild cognitive impairments should have their cognitive abilities routinely tested. Treatment considerations may change if the patient has cognitive impairments.

This study - titled "Mild cognitive impairment in high-risk patients with chronic atrial fibrillation: a forgotten component of clinical management?" - was published in the journal Heart. It was funded by National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. Ms. Ball and colleagues disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 23, 2013