A Caregivers Asks: Does Anesthesia Make Dementia Worse?

It can. It doesn’t always. This ambiguous response is true of many questions regarding what happens when someone has Alzheimer’s disease or one of the many other forms of dementia. What is true for one person is not true for many others.

Some factors that can have an effect on whether or not someone experiences cognitive decline after general anesthetic are:

Age – The older we are, the more vulnerable we are to side effects of anesthesia. Our brain, like the rest of us does not respond in the same way it once did.

Medical Conditions and Medications – The more health issues one has and the more medication one requires the greater the chances of cognitive decline with the added stress of surgery.

Loss of Blood – Blood loss during surgery can reduce oxygen flow to the brain resulting in cognitive impairment.

Type of Anesthesia Needed and What Procedure has to be Done – Depending on the circumstances, the surgeon may need to use heavy sedation over a relatively long period of time increasing the chance of a negative reaction.  For less extensive procedures, he or she may opt for a spinal block and twilight sleep. Doing this could lessen the risk of cognitive decline.

Pre-existing Dementia – Dementia is a devastating brain disease and any procedure that causes increased stress on it could result in changes in function.

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It is important to note that often the cognitive changes seen immediately after surgery and anesthesia are temporary. For some patients there can be a partial return to pre-surgery state with more minor losses remaining.

It is also important to speak openly about your concerns and to work with the physician to formulate the best plan for the needs of the person requiring surgery. Despite the risks, the procedure may have to go forward in order to save the person’s life. And remember, the surgeon and medical staff want the best possible outcome as much as you do, and will do their best for their patient.

For more information on anesthesia and dementia click on the following links: http://health.sunnybrook.ca/brain/surgery-and-dementia, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-general-anesthesia-trigger-dementia/; https://www.dementia.org.au/files/helpsheets/Helpsheet-DementiaQandA20-Anaethesia_english.pdf

Bobbi Carducci The Imperfect Caregiver

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