Can Surgeries Lead to Cognitive Impairment in Seniors?


Senior woman in hospital.

POCD takes place in more than 25% of seniors in the days and even weeks just after non-cardiac surgery.

Undergoing surgery for seniors always involves some inherent risks, but there is a little-known effect impacting a significant number of seniors following surgery that we all must be aware of: POCD (postoperative cognitive dysfunction). POCD takes place in more than 25% of seniors in the days and even weeks just after non-cardiac surgery, and may present with a variety of symptoms, several of which can be almost indiscernible: forgetfulness, loss in concentration and focus, along with other kinds of cognitive impairment that affect quality of life.

Research points to the medical procedure itself in addition to associated stress, as opposed to anesthesia, as the culprit in POCD. Dr. Roderic Eckenhoff, vice chair for research and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania professor of anesthesiology, says, “Most surgery causes peripheral inflammation. In young people, the brain remains largely isolated from that inflammation, but with older people, our blood-brain barrier becomes kind of leaky. That contributes to neuroinflammation, which activates a whole cascade of events in the brain that can accelerate the ongoing aging process.”

There are still many unknowns to be researched to find out the best way to prevent and/or successfully treat POCD: how to most effectively evaluate it, whether or not it results in a continuum of brain disorders post-surgery or perhaps is a separate condition, and how to tell it apart from standard cognitive functionality later in life. Researchers are currently working to more effectively understand POCD, with a number of scientific journals getting ready to release the most recent information and developments at an upcoming POCD conference.

While commonly a short-term condition, POCD is a risk that needs to be talked about with the physician just before surgery for an older adult, especially if the senior has existing cognitive impairment. And for all seniors undergoing surgery, it is a wise idea to try to avoid activities that are cognitively stressful for 1 month post-surgery.

Midnight Sun Home Care, providers of the companion care services Matanuska-Susitna AK families rely on, is the optimal post-procedure partner enabling older adults the chance to rest and fully recover from surgery, providing personalized, in-home assistance with a wide variety of tasks. If the need is for help with household chores and meals during recovery, picking up prescription refills and groceries, light housework and organization around the house, or help with personal care, safe ambulation and fall prevention, we’re readily available for as much or as little assistance as necessary. Contact us online or call us at (907) 677-7890 to learn more or to schedule a free of charge in-home assessment to determine how exactly we can best assist your senior family member.

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