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Effect of Anesthesia on the Elderly

When we get older, our bodies begin to weaken, and lose the ability to fight off some diseases or conditions by themselves. Surgery will be required in many instances, which includes the use of anesthesia to ensure the process is painless. The general use of anesthesia includes both intravenous (through the veins) and inhaled drugs that will render an individual unconscious for a controlled period of time depending on the dosage.

 

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Most applications of anesthesia are used when a surgical procedural will cause a high amount of physical or mental pain, or interfere with normal bodily functions. During the process, your body will be put into a state people call “going under”. For most younger individuals, recovery from this state after surgery is completed is typically very fast, and any residual effects will wear off. However, because the bodies of older individuals like seniors tends to process drugs slower, there may be residual effects or risks associated with taking anesthesia. In most cases, complications with anesthesia arise when used on patients with other medical conditions.

 

Two Most Common Effects of Anesthesia

  • Postoperative delirium – This condition will leave an individual with symptoms of confusion, disorientation, memory loss, and general awareness loss. It will typically appear days after surgery is performed, but will usually disappear in about a week

Something to note here is the difference between delirium and dementia, two commonly confused conditions. These two conditions have very similar symptoms including mood swings, lack of perception and some of those mentioned above. Bottom line is that people who have dementia can have symptoms of delirium, but these two terms are completely different.

  • Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) – This is the more serious condition of the two. Symptoms include long-term memory loss, decreased learning capability, as well as decreased cognitive functions (thinking, concentrating, etc). The only way to diagnose a patient with POCD is to conduct mental exams before and after surgery.

 

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How to avoid Post-Surgery Complications

There are many things you can do to ensure that the risks associated with anesthesia are decreased during a surgery.

  • Request that an anesthesiologist who specializes in geriatric patients is responsible for leading the use of the anesthesia drug
  • Request that a pre-surgery cognitive test be performed to assess the patient’s metal state and function. This can be used for a test post-surgery to check for abnormalities

Things you can do post-surgery

Family members are not allowed to be with the patient during most surgical procedures, especially those that require anesthesia. However, to reduce the aftereffects of the anesthesia (disorientation, confusion, etc), there are some things you can do for the patient:

  • Stay with them while they recover from their ‘down under’ state
  • Ensure any hearing or vision aids are readily available after the procedure
  • Request a recovery room with a window, which allows for the patient to check whether it’s night or day outside

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