Major operations, like open heart and abdominal surgeries, require that the patient undergo general anesthesia. If the one going under the knife is a senior, there is a chance anesthesia will have an adverse effect on the individual’s cognitive functions—at least as far as some medical researchers claim. Seniors who have experienced this phenomenon will likely require memory care after their surgery.
The earliest mention of surgeries and anesthesia prompting a host of cognitive changes is an article published in the The Lancet in 1955. The author, a surgeon and physician, noted the stark cases of patients who were cognitively normal before surgery and severely demented after their procedures.
The effects of anesthesia on the memory has a scientific name—postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD). Although science is hard pressed to provide sufficient scientific evidence of this phenomenon, today’s medical professionals do not discount the link between surgery and resulting memory problems.
Postoperative delirium has a 60 percent chance of occurring in elderly patients who undergo surgical operations. Aging patients are increasingly at risk for developing this type of post-surgical geriatric complication. Delirium may occur immediately after surgery or surface ten years after a surgical procedure.
Loved ones of older patients who develop any type of memory issue after general anesthesia are often the first to say mom or dad was fine before the operation. Upon closer inspection, these patients were on the road to dementia without their family members fully realizing the extent of gradual decline. If a loved one in your family is suffering from dementia as a result of anesthesia, home care agencies can care for them with professional in-home memory care services.
What is postoperative cognitive dysfunction?
After surgery, susceptible older patients may exhibit signs of a type of acute brain failure, which may be temporary or fluctuate. A small number of post-surgery geriatric patients experience mild cognitive impairment for a few months before recovering—while some suffer permanent impairment.
Memory takes a hit, with patients describing their post-surgical mental state as foggy. These elderly individuals also discover their once-competent planning and decision-making skills have deteriorated. Full-blown dementia may result in a small subset of patients who experience delirium after surgery.
What are symptoms of postoperative cognitive dysfunction?
Short- or long-term symptoms that can become present after administration of general anesthesia involve cognition. A portion of patients who are uncharacteristically belligerent become aggressive and agitated. On the opposite spectrum, affected patients may display passivity, sleepiness and occasional hallucinations.
What are risk factors for post-op delirium or other cognitive decline?
The biggest predictor of post-operative delirium, which occurs prior to dementia, is when a patient already suffers from pre-existing dementia. Aside from pre-existing dementia, other pre-operative risk factors include older age (over 65), functional impairment and the presence of at least two morbid conditions (comorbidities).
Additionally, patients who are most susceptible to post-op cognitive decline are the least physically fit, are heavy smokers or have obesity, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis or peripheral vascular disease. For unknown reasons, a stint in the hospital, with or without surgery, is a risk factor for cognitive impairment.
Are memory problems a determined consequence of surgery?
Research exists that can back up divergent claims, that general anesthesia has no effect on cognition and that anesthesia has absolute adverse effects on the aging brain. A 2013 report states patients who underwent anesthesia during surgery were far better cognitively 7.5 years after their procedures.
A study done in 2017, in contrast, suggests a link between patients who underwent coronary artery bypass graft surgery and their heightened risk for developing long-term dementia. Two studies out of hundreds fail to produce convincing evidence to correlate general anesthesia and a dementia outcome.
What are the effects of anesthesia on the brain?
Whether or not medical research can pinpoint a direct link between general anesthesia and the subsequent risk for memory issues, one fact is clear: Anesthesia drugs travel into the brain and lodge it into a state of amnesia; loss of consciousness, immobility and decreased blood flow to the brain result.
What are the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease post-op?
Certain proteins connected with Alzheimer’s disease may be at a normal level before an operation. Anywhere from 48 hours to 6 months after a surgical operation, like cardiac surgery, where anesthesia is administered, these levels may change to those that are suggestive of mild cognitive impairment.
Contrastingly, some clinical researchers determine that anesthesia plays only a minor role in cognitive decline. Studies have compared patients who underwent local anesthesia with those who received general anesthesia. The risk for dementia in either of these two groups remained nearly identical.
In what ways is anesthesia being optimized?
Anesthesiologists are fine tuning the amount of anesthesia needed to subdue a patient prior to surgery. While medical professionals find it easier to provide the elderly with more drugs than actually needed, an idealized dose of general anesthetics may reduce the risk of delirium and associated cognitive decline.
Surgery is a double-edged sword. On one hand, a senior’s quality of life may be improved after an operation. On the other hand, surgery is a powerful stressor on the physical body, which includes the brain. Experts also note that surgery can bring to light an underlying cognitive impairment.
When your loved one is released from a hospital stay, extra care at home will be warranted to facilitate a smooth recovery. Compassionate, in-home care provided by the Assisting Hands Home Care team ensures the senior receives well-balanced care to accelerate the healing process.
Non-medical care includes assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs), such as help with bathing, dressing and preparing meals. Our skilled caregivers transport their care recipients to follow-up doctor’s appointments, the grocery store or social events. Our services also include medication reminders.
Companionship is provided to ensure emotional well-being and help ease symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Caregivers trained in in-home dementia care keep their care recipients’ memories sharp and engaged with appropriately challenging board games, puzzles and meaningful conversation.
Assisting Hands Home Care is dedicated to helping seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease live full, dignified lives. The senior in your life deserves exceptional care. Call on the experienced caregivers at Assisting Hands Home Care for comprehensive, quality elder care services.