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Does Surgery Equal Cognitive Decline in Seniors?

senior female in hospital bed
Considering surgery? Learn about the potential for cognitive decline in seniors first.

Undergoing surgery for older adults typically involves some inherent risks, but there is a little-known effect impacting a large number of seniors after surgery that we all must be aware of: POCD (postoperative cognitive dysfunction). POCD takes place in more than 25% of older adults during the days and sometimes even weeks following non-cardiac surgery, and can present with an array of symptoms, some of which can be almost indiscernible: forgetfulness, loss in concentration and focus, and other kinds of cognitive decline that affect quality of life.

Research points towards the medical procedure itself and the associated stress, rather than anesthesia, as the culprit in POCD. According to Dr. Roderic Eckenhoff, vice chair for research and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania professor of anesthesiology, “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 many unknowns to be explored to find out how to prevent and/or effectively treat POCD: how to most effectively measure it, whether it plays a part in a continuum of brain disorders post-surgery or perhaps is a separate issue, and how to tell it apart from standard brain functionality later in life. Researchers are at present attempting to more effectively comprehend POCD, with several scientific publications preparing to release the latest conclusions and developments at an upcoming POCD summit.

While commonly a temporary condition, POCD is a risk that ought to be talked about with the physician prior to surgery for an older adult, especially if there is an existing concern about cognitive decline for the senior. And for all seniors undergoing surgery, it’s smart to refrain from activities that are cognitively stressful for 30 days following surgery.

Home Sweet Home In-Home Care is the optimal post-procedure partner, enabling seniors the opportunity to rest and fully recover from surgery, offering personalized, in-home assistance with a multitude of tasks. If the need is for help with household chores and meals during recovery, picking up medication refills and groceries, light housework and organization around the house, or help with personal care, safe ambulation and fall prevention, we’re available for as much or as little care as necessary. Call our Portage home care experts at (866) 229-2505 to find out more and to arrange a free of charge in-home assessment to determine how we can best help your senior loved one.

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