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Older surgical patients at greater risk for developing cognitive problems

Public release date: 2-Jan-2008

DURHAM, N.C. — Patients over the age of 60 who have elective surgeries such as joint replacements, hysterectomies and other non-emergency, inpatient procedures, are at an increased risk for long-term cognitive problems, according to a new study led by Duke University Medical Center researchers

“We have known that patients undergoing heart surgery are at risk for cognitive dysfunction — problems with memory, concentration, processing of information — but the effects of non-cardiac surgeries on brain function are not as well-understood,” said Terri Monk, M.D., an anesthesiologist at Duke and the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and lead investigator on the study. “Our study found that increasing age put patients in this population at greater risk for cognitive problems and this is significant because the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the population. We know that half of all people 65 and older will have at least one surgery in their lifetime.”

The study found that many of the young, middle-aged and elderly patients experienced postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) at the time they left the hospital. But three months later, those aged 60 and older were more than twice as likely to exhibit POCD. Those with POCD at both the time of hospital discharge and three months after surgery also were more likely to die within the first year after surgery, Monk said.

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