What You Need to Know About Seniors and Anesthesia

Posted by Meghan Orner on November 18, 2015

What You Need to Know About Seniors and Anesthesia

Medical operations and procedures have certainly come a long way with the advancements in technology, but complications can still arise mid or post-surgery. For many patients undergoing surgery, receiving anesthesia is the norm, but seniors and anesthesia is not always the perfect combo. A recent article discusses the importance of talking to an anesthesiologist before surgery, especially concerning the possible negative effects anesthesia has on seniors.   

Talking to an Anesthesiologist Before Surgery

Anesthesia is commonly used in surgeries so the patient does not feel any pain during the operation. However, there are two big risks that come along with receiving anesthesia, especially among seniors:

  • Postoperative delirium is a temporary condition, but it may take a few days after the surgery for the symptoms of this condition to appear. Typical symptoms include confusion, disorientation, having difficulty paying attention, memory troubles or not being aware of the surrounding environment. This condition is actually quite common, and it usually only lasts for about a week.
  • However, postoperative cognitive dysfunction, also called POCD, is a much more serious condition as it can result in long-term memory loss and a worsened ability to concentrate, learn and think. What complicates this condition more is the fact that the only way to determine if your loved one suffers from POCD is by conducting a mental test before the surgery and comparing those results with the results of the test conducted after the surgery. 

Those who have experienced a stroke or have been showing signs of dementia or confusion are more likely to develop one of the two conditions above. 

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Preventative Measures

So if anesthesia isn’t a great option for seniors, what can you do? We’re certainly not suggesting that your loved one go through a surgery without anesthesia, but the American Society of Anesthesiologists outlines other steps you can take to make it easier for your loved one:

  • Some anesthesiologists specialize in geriatric patients, so request that they lead your loved one’s anesthesia care.
  • This piece of advice ties back into the POCD condition explained above. By conducting a pre-surgery cognitive test and comparing those results with a post-surgery test, your loved one’s doctor will then be able to determine if your loved one is suffering from POCD.
  • Inform the anesthesiologist of all the medications your loved one is currently taking, whether they are prescribed or over-the-counter medications and vitamins, along with the frequency and dosage.
  • As your loved one’s caregiver, it’s also important that you observe your loved one’s mental and physical activity post-surgery. Report anything worrisome to the doctor, and talk to the doctor before your loved one takes any medications for anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures and sleep troubles as they may have negative effects on your loved one’s nervous system post-surgery.

Talking to an anesthesiologist before surgery may not seem important, but taking these simple steps can go a long way in promoting your loved one’s health before and after surgery.

Questions To Ask

Seniors and anesthesia aren’t the only things you should be concerned about before your loved one’s surgery; three of the biggest factors that affect seniors’ surgery risks are advanced age, medical condition and the type of surgery.

In addition to talking to an anesthesiologist, below are some other questions you should ask your loved one’s doctor pre-operation:

  • About how long will the surgery last?
  • Who will be present during the operation?

Knowing what to expect before a surgery is just as important as preparing for what happens after a surgery. Asking these questions will help you know what to expect post-operation:

  • Will rehab be necessary?
  • What is the estimated recovery time?

Prepping your loved one for surgery can be stressful and scary enough, but it can be a little less stressful if you take these preventative measures.


TAGS: seniors and anesthesia