The long-term effects of general anesthesia may prove very debilitating to elderly people. Apart from affecting memory, it may also compromise their ability to do complex mental tasks.
Anesthesia and the Mind
Anesthesia uses the combination of inhaled and intravenous drugs to render an individual unconscious so that they don’t feel any physical pain during a surgical procedure. As a person ages, the more likely the need for them to undergo surgery and as a consequence, the need to utilize general anesthesia.
While the after effects of ‘going under’ is relatively harmless to younger and healthier people, with the side effect of grogginess and general confusion, its effects may prove debilitating to older individuals.
Madam Lee, a retiree who declined to give her real name, recounts how strange the experience was for her. Four years ago, she had undergone a three-hour operation to remove her breast cancer. She then continued her treatment, which included radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
The effects were surprising. At first, she only had strange and vivid dreams, but she then found out that she had become more forgetful, with her short-term memory suffering considerably. Although the strange dreams have stopped, her memory is now slowly deteriorating.
General Anesthesia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Her story, as well as new studies are proving that general anesthesia, when used on the elderly, can increase the risk of dementia and the development of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers have discovered that there is an initial decline in cognitive function right after surgery. This decline, called Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction, eventually leads to dementia and is linked with promoting neuroinflammatory reactions within the brain. In short, the reactions make the brain sick and causes cell degeneration.
This degeneration is the cornerstone of dementia as well as a sharp decrease of cognitive function, that may lead to forgetfulness, long-term memory less, and erratic behavior, just to name a few. Since the neurons of the brain are made more vulnerable, people who have these are more likely to get diseases like Alzheimer’s.
At 75 years old. The brain’s functions have already declined. If POCD further confounds this, there is a great chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases. The risk of Alzheimer’s isn’t just the sheer loss of brain power, though. It can be an early cause of death since, as they become more forgetful, they may wander away from their homes thinking they are elsewhere and may eventually develop pneumonia or simply starve.
Lee isn’t the only one who can attest to this mental degeneration. The study, which included over 9,294 elderly people who had undergone surgery between 1999 and 2001 were given post –surgery evaluations. About nine percent of the participants developed dementia after eight years of anesthetic exposure, and fifteen percent were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The research concluded that long-term follow ups should be done post-surgery so that treatments that combat POCD can be sought immediately to prevent the onset of more serious neurological disorders.