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A syndrome called “post-operative cognitive decline” has been coined to refer to the commonly reported loss of cognitive abilities, usually in older adults, in the days to weeks after surgery. In fact, some patients time the onset of their Alzheimer’s disease symptoms from a surgical procedure. Exactly how the trio of anesthesia, surgery, and dementia interact is clinically inconclusive, yet of great concern to patients, their families and physicians.
A year ago, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reported that Alzheimer's pathology, as reflected by cerebral spinal fluid biomarkers, might be increased in patients after surgery and anesthesia. However, it is not clear whether the anesthetic drugs or the surgical procedure itself was responsible. To separate these possibilities, the group turned to a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
The results, published online this month in the Annals of Surgery, show that surgery itself, rather than anesthesia, has the more profound impact on a dementia-vulnerable brain.