Anesthesia After Age 40 Doesn't Cause Cognitive Impairment, Study Says

First Posted: Jan 20, 2016 07:03 PM EST

Previous studies have suggested that anesthesia may have something to do with the development of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) when used in older individuals. However, new findings presented by researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that patients over 40 were not affected by surgical anesthesia when it came to such issues. 

While elderly patients can develop delirium following anesthesia or surgery, it typically resolves within a few days to weeks after the problem occurs. This research specifically assessed if anesthesia is associated with more prolonged periods of cognitive impairment.

"We looked at a group of patients who have been followed here in Olmsted County, where we have detailed information about their cognitive function as they age. The bottom line of our study is that we did not find an association between exposure to anesthesia for surgery and the development of mild cognitive impairment in these patients," said senior author David O. Warner, M.D., a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist, in a news release

While one study has found that anesthetics can increase MCI risk, another study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic reveals no link between anesthesia patients under age 45 and increased MCI risk. However, as far as children under the age of 2 are concerned, researchers are still investigating if it could increase the risk for MCI later in life; a previous study did find that anesthetics increased ADHD rates among children, researchers say. 

This recent study involved 1,731 residents of Olmsted County, Minn., who were between the ages of 70 and 89 and who did not have MCI. All participants were asked to undergo evaluations for MCI, which included a neurologic evaluation, neuropsychological testing, and others, with follow-up evaluations every 15 months.

A mean follow-up of about 4.8 years revealed that 31 percent of participants developed MCI. Meanwhile 85 percent had some type of surgery that required anesthesia at least once following age 40. Researchers noted that while exposure to anesthesia after 40 was not associated with MCI, after 60, there may be a higher risk. 

Based on the aforementioned findings, more research will be needed for patients over 60--especially those who need vascular surgeries as well as learning and memory in children later in life. 

The study can be found in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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