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Surgery can cause cognitive decline in dementia-vulnerable brain

Surgery can cause cognitive decline in dementia-vulnerable brain
17th September 2012

Patients with a brain vulnerable to dementia could develop post-operative cognitive decline as a result of surgery.

This is the finding of a new study at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, which wanted to understand the link between anaesthesia, surgery and dementia.

Many older adults experience a loss of cognitive ability after undergoing an operation, but until now it was unclear what the catalyst for this was.

Researchers now claim that it is the surgery itself, not anaesthesia, which causes the problem.

The mouse study identified that animals with Alzheimer's disease genes that had surgery experienced a lasting increase in dementia pathology, primarily through the activation of brain inflammation.

What's more, it was observed that cognitive impairment persisted for at least 14 weeks after surgery.

Dr Roderic Eckenhoff, leader of the study, explained: "In the mice, there was a clear and persistent decrement in learning and memory caused by surgery as compared with inhalational anaesthesia – but only in the context of a brain made vulnerable by human Alzheimer-associated transgenes."

The study could have significant implications for limiting the cognitive effects of surgery in patients by targeting those at risk of dementia.

Find out about dementia care and support services at Barchester care homes.