I've sung before the praises of avoiding anesthesia when possible. Here's an Epoch Times article that confirms my instincts: Anesthesia: The Lesser-Known Side Effect That Could Be Mind Altering. I fear it may be behind a pay wall; if you want to see it and can't, send me an e-mail address and I can give you a "friend referral" that should let you in—at the cost, of course, of letting the Epoch Times know your address. Here are some glimpses at the long article:
If you’re over 65, there’s a significant risk you will wake up from surgery as a slightly different person. Studies indicate at least a quarter and possibly up to half of this population suffer from postoperative delirium—a serious medical condition that causes sudden changes in thinking and behavior.
Delirium is the most common complication of surgery. Until recently, it wasn’t taken very seriously. But researchers believe it can often be avoided—and warrants more study—given its link to long-term and permanent neuropsychotic problems.
A JAMA review noted that up to 65 percent of patients who are 65 and older experience delirium after noncardiac surgery and 10 percent develop long-term cognitive decline. Delirium can lead to longer hospitalization, more days with mechanical ventilation, and functional decline. Even after discharge, functional and psychological health can worsen with increased risks of progressive cognitive decline, dementia, and death.
My grandfather, retired engineer and former college professor with a sharp mind, never recovered, mentally, from a relatively simple operation when he was around my age. I've always blamed the anesthesia, and I may not be wrong.
It's good that the medical establishment is finally taking the problem seriously. Too many doctors expect mental decline in their elderly patients. Yet, in addition to researching ways to minimize the need for general anesthesia, there are already some easy and inexpensive techniques for ameliorating the situation.
More experts and surgeons are also recognizing the importance of post-surgical cognitive rehabilitation. Just as patients who are having orthopedic and other surgeries are guided to get up and move shortly after surgery, there’s evidence that doing crossword puzzles and other cognitive-based activities can help prevent delirium.
Sleep and a support system appear to be two vital ways to prevent delirium. Hospital staff routinely wake sleeping patients for medication, and the various beeps of hospital equipment can disrupt sleep. For those who are hospitalized after surgery, minimizing sleep disruptions is key, according to the Anesthesia & Analgesia article.
"This is particularly important for the older patient for whom the restorative properties of natural sleep are another key part of their recovery. Importantly, family engagement and social support should be implemented early in the preoperative period," the article states.