Elderly patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), who constitute almost half of all AF patients, are at increased risk of stroke. Anticoagulant therapies, especially vitamin K antagonists (VKA), reduce the risk of stroke in all patients including the elderly but are frequently under-used in older patients. Failure to initiate VKA in elderly AF patients is related to a number of factors, including the limitations of current therapies and the increased risk for major haemorrhage associated with advanced age and anticoagulation therapy. Of particular concern is the risk of intracranial haemorrhages (ICH), which is associated with high rates of mortality and morbidity. Novel oral anticoagulant agents that are easier to use and might offer similar or better levels of stroke prevention with a similar or reduced risk of bleeding should increase the use of antithrombotic therapy in the management of elderly AF patients. Amongst these new agents, the recently approved direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran provides effective stroke prevention with a significant reduction of ICH, and enables clinicians to tailor the dose according to age and haemorrhagic risk.
© 2011 The Association for the Publication of the Journal of Internal Medicine.