News Briefs: Atrial Fibrillation & Dementia; Cancer Survivors; Walking & Stroke Severity

Managing Atrial Fibrillation May Help Reduce Dementia Risk

People with a common heart condition called atrial fibrillation (afib) may experience a more rapid decline in memory and thinking skills than individuals without the heart rhythm disturbance, according to a study published recently in the journal Neurology. But taking anticoagulants (blood thinners) to help prevent dangerous blood clots can reduce the risk of dementia, researchers found. Afib occurs when the atria, the two top chambers of the heart, beat chaotically and out of synch with the lower two chambers. This allows blood to pool in the atria and form a blood clot. The clot can move to the brain and reduce blood flow to brain tissue; in severe cases it can block blood flow entirely, causing a stroke. Compromised circulation to the brain is associated with dementia and other brain function problems. In the study, researchers reviewed the medical records of more than 2,100 people without afib and about 500 people with the condition for an average of six years. About 10 percent of the non-afib patients developed dementia during the study period, while 23 percent of the afib group developed dementia. Though there was no direct cause-and-effect proved in the study, researchers suggest that effective management of afib with blood thinners to reduce clotting is a smart decision to lower your dementia risk, as well as your odds of having a stroke or other blood clot-related complication.

Study Finds Most Cancer Survivors Happy with Their Lives

In a testament to resiliency and how surviving a difficult experience can bring about a positive, appreciative outlook, a recent study found that three-quarters of former cancer patients are mentally flourishing, despite their previous illness. And what may be even more noteworthy, researchers found that more than half of the current cancer patients in the study also demonstrated “complete mental health.” Researchers defined complete mental health as being happy or satisfied with your life on a daily or almost daily basis, and having high levels of personal and social wellbeing (having supportive and trusting relationships with others, feeling like your life has meaning and a positive sense of direction, etc.). Anyone with depression or anxiety, or who had substance abuse problems or suicidal thoughts in the past year was not considered to be living in complete mental health. Former and current cancer patients with a history of depression, anxiety, substance abuse or childhood trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, were less likely to achieve complete mental health. Also, chronic pain associated with their illness and financial stress also reduced the likelihood of achieving complete mental health. Having a better idea of the factors that affect the mental health of cancer patients could give health-care providers targets for interventions to help them through their treatment and recovery, the researchers said. The study was published in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

Half an Hour of Walking Per Day May Help Reduce Stroke Severity

A stroke of any kind can be an alarming and potentially debilitating event. But recent research suggests that people who walk for just four hours a week, swim two to three hours a week, or engage in other, similar physical activities have less-severe strokes than people who are physically inactive. A study published in the journal Neurology found that recent stroke patients who engaged in light physical activity were twice as likely to have a mild stroke rather than a moderate or severe stroke compared with people who were inactive. The study found that light and moderate physical activity provided similar protective benefits. The average age of the people in the study was 73, and information about their physical activity levels were provided by them or family members after a stroke. It’s possible that the recollections of some stroke patients or their relatives were not 100 percent accurate. However, the brain benefits of exercise are well established. And while this study showed an association between physical activity and stroke severity, rather than proving greater exercise levels assure less-severe strokes, the researchers suggested that physical inactivity should be targeted as a possible risk factor for severe strokes. If a daily half-hour walk or swim or tennis game fits your schedule, consider future stroke survival among the many benefits of that activity.

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