Keep an Eye on Post-surgical Senior Patients

Keep an Eye on Post-surgical Senior Patients

Jim Lipman

GoFind Inc.

In early December I read a very interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, “The Surgical Complication That Can Damage Your Brain.” In the article the author discusses a condition called delirium, which is “a confused state that is common in elderly patients after surgery or during intensive care stays.”

Many of us know people who admit they don’t do well after anesthesia administered during surgery, often feeling dizzy or “just off” for a day or two. Unfortunately delirium is more common in elderly than in younger patients and the effects of delirium can last much longer and may even contribute to permanent cognitive impairment. The WSJ article states that, “In U.S. hospitals, about five older adults become delirious every minute, or 2.6 million people a year, according to an analysis of government statistics.”

The exact causes of delirium in hospitalized patients are not known, although anesthesia administered during surgery may play a role. Ventilators for patients who haven’t had surgery may also be a contributing factor. Even the stress associated with a hospital visit can have a causal effect in delirium.

Patients can help mitigate the effects of delirium during planned surgeries by exercising, eating a healthy diet and keeping hydrated, as well as discussing any medications they take with their doctors. After surgery, minimizing pain medications may also help alleviate or eliminate delirium-like conditions.

Just as important and maybe even more so, caregivers should be prepared to provide extra assistance to their seniors before and after any surgeries the seniors may undergo. More frequent visits by and communications from caregivers to seniors is very important to evaluate a senior’s post-surgical condition and look out for any signs of delirium.

While the exact causes of delirium after a hospital stay are not fully understood, seniors and caregivers should be aware of the condition and can take steps to minimize its appearance and help deal with its effects if it does occur. 

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