Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction: Are Seniors at Risk After Surgery?

Senior woman in hospital bed

Are Seniors at Risk After Surgery?

Undergoing surgery for older adults commonly involves some inherent risks, but there’s a little-known effect impacting a significant number of seniors following surgery that we all have to be aware of: POCD (postoperative cognitive dysfunction). POCD occurs in more than 25% of older adults during the days or even weeks after non-cardiac surgery, and can present with a variety of symptoms, a few of which may be almost indiscernible: forgetfulness, loss in concentration and focus, as well as other forms of cognitive decline that affect quality of life.

Research points towards the surgical treatment itself together with associated stress, rather than anesthesia, as the culprit in POCD. Per 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 still many unknowns to be investigated to ascertain how to prevent and/or effectively treat POCD: how exactly to most effectively measure it, whether or not it plays a part in a continuum of brain disorders post-surgery or is a standalone issue, and exactly how to distinguish it from standard cognitive functionality later in life. Scientists are currently attempting to better understand POCD, with several scientific publications preparing to release the latest findings and developments at a future POCD summit.

While usually a short-term condition, POCD is a risk that needs to be talked about with the doctor prior to surgery for an older adult, especially if the senior has existing cognitive concerns. And for all seniors undergoing surgery, it’s best to try to avoid activities which are cognitively stressful for 30 days following surgery.

As one of the top caregiver agencies in Orange County, CareWorks Health Services is the perfect post-procedure partner, giving older adults the chance to rest and fully recover from surgery, offering personalized, in-home assistance with a multitude of tasks. If the need is for assistance with household chores and meals during recovery, picking up prescription refills and groceries, light housework and organization around the home, or help with personal care, safe ambulation and fall prevention, we’re available for as much or as little assistance as required. Contact us online or call us at (949) 859-4700 for more information or to arrange a free in-home assessment to find out exactly how we can best help your senior loved one. Visit our Service Area page to find out if our professional home care services are available in your community.