The Unexpected Mental Effects of Anesthesia

If you’re over 65, there’s a significant chance that surgery could have surprising effects on your mind. Research shows that anywhere from a quarter to half of this age group experience postoperative delirium, a serious condition that causes sudden shifts in thinking and behavior. Although it’s not clear whether the stress of surgery or the lasting impacts of anesthesia are the main culprits, scientists have identified several risk factors that can help predict who is more likely to develop this condition.

Delirium is the most common surgery complication, but now experts believe it can be prevented and deserves further investigation due to its connection to long-term neurological issues. It is a condition that often masquerades as other psychiatric disorders. From dementia to depression and psychosis, its elusive symptoms leave no room for mistakes. With strikingly similar symptoms, the lines can blur, making accurate diagnosis a tricky challenge. On top of that, the symptoms may vary not only from patient to patient but also fluctuate over time.

With up to 65% experiencing this condition, and 10% facing long-term cognitive decline, the consequences are severe. Prolonged hospital stays, reliance on mechanical ventilation, and functional decline are just the beginning. Even after leaving the hospital, patients may face worsened functional and psychological health, coupled with increased risks of cognitive decline, dementia, and death. In fact, a recent study found that postoperative delirium can accelerate cognitive decline by a staggering 40% among elderly patients monitored for 72 months following elective surgery.

Many patients actually have undiagnosed pre-existing cognitive impairments that can alter the outcome of surgery. Age and type of surgery also play a role, with individuals over 60 and those undergoing orthopedic or cardiac procedures being particularly vulnerable. Risk factors include poor cognition, frailty, inadequate nutrition, alcohol-use disorder, depression, unmanaged diabetes, and other medical conditions. Notably, patients who are taking multiple medications are at a higher risk, as surgeries involve anesthesia drugs and additional pain management medications, along with precautionary antibiotics.

Your body’s ability to handle surgery is highly dependent on its reserve. Reserve can be described as an “extra bandwidth” that allows you to withstand fluctuations in blood flow, tissue damage, and other trauma. By focusing on nutrition, physical fitness, and cultivating positive psychosocial traits, you can boost your reserve and enhance your surgical tolerance. It’s like giving your body an extra shield of protection.

The key is to embrace the power of reserve and take proactive steps to elevate it. By simply being open and honest about your anxieties, you can start to lower your risks. Embrace the remarkable benefits of positive affirmations and breathing exercises to bring calm to your mind and body. Moreover, adopting a positive mindset and incorporating visualization techniques can significantly reduce the reliance on pharmaceuticals. This extends beyond simply medication dosages, as it can also lead to lesser amounts of anesthesia required during procedures. Ensuring a smooth transition and a sense of familiarity, patients are encouraged to bring along personal items from home, such as hearing aids, glasses, dentures, and all necessary medications and supplements.

With a resilient reserve on your side, you can face surgery with confidence and minimize any potential post-anesthetic complications.

To view the original scientific study click below:
Cognitive Decline Associated With Anesthesia and Surgery in Older Patients