Side Effects of Anesthesia: Confusion after Surgery

Posted by Debra A. Ross, MAOM CDP CALD | Apr 05, 2022

Often a major concern and potential side-effect of anesthesia is the onset of Confusion in Older Adults after Surgery.  The longer we live, the more likely surgery may be necessary to maintain quality of life.  Half of individuals over age 65 will have had at least one surgery in their medical charts.  The expected side-effects of post-surgery recovery may involve nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, sore throat, itching, and sleepiness. As age and health conditions increase, the effects of anesthesia are more likely include confusion, delirium, and short-term memory loss. 

Postoperative delirium may cause confusion, disorientation, memory loss, and limited attention span.  Many of these symptoms usually resolve after a few days to possibly a week depending on the individual's overall health and medical procedure. 

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) exhibits more serious effects involving long-term memory loss which may be indicative of possible underlying cognitive decline.  Exposure to anesthesia may reveal underlying problems with memory, thinking and executive functioning.

Many physicians conduct a pre-operative cognitive evaluation to identify pre-existing impaired brain function. This helps to determine the possible risk of exposure to anesthesia-associated side-effects. Older adults often experience normal aging deficits without impaired daily functionality. Yet, marked decline following a surgery involving anesthesia may be cause to involve a neurological team to better explore other possible reasons.  Early detection of cognitive changes allows for personal and financial planning, related education, team building and most importantly, having a voice in the decision-making process.

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About the Author

Debra A. Ross, MAOM CDP CALD

GERIATRIC CARE ADVISOR | When a loved one shows signs of dementia, you want Debby on your team to help create a greater understanding of the dynamics of dementia related diseases. Her compassion and expertise is unparalleled. A Certified Dementia Practitioner, former Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, Certified Assisted Living Director and trainer, an Alzheimer's Association Community Educator – and the list goes on and on. She's a featured speaker at hospitals and universities plus has appeared on TV and radio promoting geriatric and dementia education.

Never doubt that a group of thoughtful people can be called to action and provide a change in the continuum of care.


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