Anesthesia alone isn't enough to cause cognitive decline in patients with dementia — rather, it's the combination of anesthesia and surgery that can trigger onset of the phenomenon, according to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. What's more, they found the mice in the study didn't even need to be exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's disease for post-operative cognitive decline to occur.
Post-operative cognitive decline is the term for the commonly reported loss of cognitive abilities, usually in older adults, in the days to weeks after surgery. Some patients trace the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms to their procedures, according to experts.
In the study, the researchers exposed mice with human Alzheimer's disease genes to either anesthesia alone, or anesthesia and abdominal surgery. The activation of surgery-related brain inflammation resulted in significant cognitive impairment that persisted for at least 14 weeks post-op, as compared to mice receiving anesthesia alone. Neither surgery plus anesthesia nor anesthesia alone produced changes in subjects without the genes.
"In the mice, there was a clear and persistent decrement in learning and memory caused by surgery as compared with inhalational anesthesia — but only in the context of a brain made vulnerable by human Alzheimer-associated transgenes," says lead researcher Roderic Eckenhoff, MD, the Austin Lamont Professor of Anesthesia at Penn.
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