Study finds link between anesthesia, surgery and subtle cognitive decline in older adults

The results of a new study suggest there is a link between general anesthesia and surgery and a "subtle decline" in memory and thinking skills in older adults.

The results of a new study suggest there is a link between general anesthesia and surgery and a "subtle decline" in memory and thinking skills in older adults. Using data from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, researchers investigated whether surgery and anesthesia exposure up to 2 decades prior to study enrollment or anesthesia exposure post-enrollment was associated with cognitive change. The more than 1,800 participants were between the ages of 70 and 89 years at the time of enrollment. The findings indicated the decline in brain function was slight; however, for patients with pre-existing mild cognitive impairment or those with already low cognitive function who are considering surgery with general anesthesia, the discovery could have more impact. "We need to be sure that patients considering surgery, and their families, are properly informed that the risk of cognitive dysfunction is possible," said the Mayo Clinic's Juraj Sprung, MD, PhD, senior author of the study. "In addition, alternative strategies should be discussed with patients before surgery is undertaken for those deemed to be at high risk." Reporting in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, the researchers stressed that it was impossible to know whether the decline was caused by anesthesia, surgery, or underlying conditions that necessitated surgery.