Anesthesia and Mental Decline


Recent findings show that major surgery and general anesthesia do not cause long-term mental decline in older adults. Older patients should not be concerned nor should they put off surgery because of fear that general anesthesia might affect their thinking and memory in the future. This good news comes about after a study in Denmark of nearly 4,300 twins under the age of 70 and 4,200 twins over the age of 70 were given tests to assess their thinking and memory abilities. Researchers also compared twins who had various types of surgery between 18 and 24 years earlier with those who did not have surgery.

Findings published recently in the journal Anesthesiology show there was no significant link between major surgery, general anesthesia and long-term mental decline. Twins were used to provide “a powerful approach to detect subtle effects of surgery and anesthesia on cognitive functioning by minimizing the risk that the true effects of surgery and anesthesia are mixed up with other environmental and genetic factors,” according to the lead author, Unni Dokkedal, of the University of Southern Denmark.

The study found that other factors, such as preoperative mental decline and underlying diseases, are more important to mental functioning in aging patients following surgery. An editorial by Michael Avidan and Dr. Alex Evers, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, supported the good news from this study and adds to growing evidence that “older patients should today be reassured that surgery and anesthesia are unlikely to be implicated in causing persistent cognitive decline or incident dementia.”

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