A new study has found that general anesthesia given to the elderly can increase their risk of dementia and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have identified an initial decline in cognitive function right after surgery, called postoperative cognitive neuroinflammatory dysfunction (POCD), that can lead to dementia. POCD is associated with promoting neuroinflammatory reactions within the brain. These reactions essentially make the brain sick and cause degeneration of its cells. This degeneration is the cornerstone of dementia, or a decrease of cognitive function, which can cause forgetfulness, long-term memory loss, loss of language, poor judgment, and erratic behavior.
The study included 9,294 elderly people who have undergone surgery between 1999 and 2001. They were interviewed and given cognitive evaluations at post-surgery years 2, 4, 7 and 10. About 9% of the participants developed dementia after eight years and 15% were likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. They found that it was the patients who underwent general anesthesia that developed POCD and were in the group most likely to develop neurodegenerative disorders. They have established that those who have general anesthesia face a greater risk of developing neurological issues than those who receive local anesthesia. The researchers concluded that preoperative evaluations must be taken of the elderly to determine whether they should even have general anesthesia. At the same time, long-term follow-ups should be done post-surgery to ensure the recognition of POCD and dementia so that treatments can be sought out immediately.
Image courtesy of Apple’s Eyes Studio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net