Anesthesia and Seniors: What You Need to Know

When your senior loved one needs a dental or medical procedure, it is common to think about logistics like recovery time and pain, as well as making sure to inform the physician about any allergies or other potential complications. However, have you ever stopped to consider the use of anesthesia? While using anesthesia is not always optional, sometimes there are other methods that might prevent some short and long-term complications.

Complications Related to Anesthesia

About 1 in every 10 people who have surgery is over the age of 65. Because of body system changes related to aging, as well as other medications, older adults are at an increased risk for two anesthesia-related complications. The first is postoperative delirium, a condition that causes the person to be confused and disoriented after surgery. While this condition is temporary, it can be scary for the older adult and their family members. To make matters even more confusing, the delirium can come and go for a full week after surgery.

The next complication older adults are at a higher risk for is postoperative cognitive dysfunction, sometimes referred to as POCD. More serious than postoperative delirium, POCD can lead to longer-term memory loss. Seniors can find it hard to concentrate, focus, pay attention, and think.

Cognitive decline and anesthesia are under scrutiny by researchers across the globe. Some studies have demonstrated that cognitive decline is accelerated due to anesthesia and surgery. This can feel frightening for seniors and their family members.

What You Can Do

You can advocate for your loved one by first speaking with their dentist or surgeon to determine if there are any alternatives to anesthesia for the specific procedure your loved one will have. Again, not all procedures can be done without anesthesia. However, you can still have a productive conversation about your options with your loved one’s care team. In addition, you can seek out second opinions that will make you feel even more confident about your decision.

In addition to asking if anesthesia is required, you can also talk about:

  • Your concerns regarding cognitive decline and post-surgery recovery. Ask if the surgeon can work with an anesthesiologist with experience working with older adults. Ask what you can expect after surgery and what the plan is if your loved one has any delirium or decline.
  • Make sure your care team knows all the prescriptions your loved one takes, including supplements and over-the-counter medications. Follow instructions about when to discontinue or pause use before the procedure.
  • Ask for the care team to complete a cognitive test on your loved one before surgery as well as after surgery. This baseline can help to determine any cognitive side effects after surgery and during recovery.
  • If your loved one wears glasses or a hearing aid, make sure it is part of the care plan to get those back in use as soon as possible after surgery. Not being able to hear or see can only add to cognitive confusion.
  • When possible, bring in a few re-orientation items to keep in your loved one’s room for their recovery. Examples might be a family photo, a calendar, and a digital clock with the time, date, and weather.
  • Ensure there is a comprehensive pain management plan for after the procedure that includes options for medications if some are adding to the confusion.

How We Can Help

The team at CaringGivers can rally behind your loved one before and after surgery. We are there to provide transportation to physician appointments, including second-opinion consultations. After surgery, we can assist with transportation to follow-up appointments, meal preparation, and companionship. Contact us to schedule your free consultation.

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