In a recently conducted Mayo Clinic study which involved people over 40 years who received anesthesia, researchers found that the development of mild cognitive impairment MCI) later in life had nothing to do with the anesthesia.
Mild cognitive impairment is more critical than the normal age-related cognitive decline, but not as critical as dementia. The findings of the study can be got from Mayo Clinic Proceedings (February issue).
It is well documented fact that elderly patients can develop post-anesthesia delirium, but this condition usually gets resolved in a few days, or at most, a couple of weeks. The objective of this study was to determine whether surgical anesthesia can lead to more prolonged cognitive decline.
For the study, the researchers followed 1,731 male and female patients who were, aged between 70 and 89. All these patients were cognitively normal as of October 2004; the patients’ cognitive abilities were evaluated every 15 months. Among the people followed, 85% received surgical anesthesia at least once after age 40. And 31% of the group developed mild cognitive impairment during the study evaluation period.
The researchers noted that while mild cognitive impairment was definitely not linked to exposure to anesthesia for surgery after age 40, they couldn’t be as definitive when it came to surgical anesthesia after age 60, especially in vascular surgery patients.
The researchers were not completely surprised because there is increasing evidence that vascular problems that lead to stroke could lead to cognitive decline. And in such cases it may not be the anesthesia that is the culprit.
According to David O Warner, M.D., a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist, and the senior author of the study, the final take-out of the study is that there is no association between development of mild cognitive impairment and exposure to surgical anesthesia.
These findings add impetus to a previous Mayo study which proved that older patients who receive anesthesia have the same risk of developing dementia as people of the same age who did not receive anesthesia.
However, at the other end of the age spectrum, Mayo researchers are seeing some cognitive decline (problems with learning and memory later in life) when young children are exposed to anesthesia. However, its early days yet, and the findings are by no means established. Even as this goes to print, other studies are being done see if this really is a problem in children receiving anesthesia, and if there is a problem, what is the best way to address it.