Link between surgery and memory loss

Date: May 12, 2014

A link has been exposed between Australians that receive major surgery and the onset of dementia.

The claim has been made at an anaesthetists meeting in Singapore recently, where it was revealed that 264,000 Australians over the age of 65 have shown signs of cognitive deficits a week after a surgical procedure.

After three months, more than 160,000 of them are still struggling, according to Fairfax Media.

Lis Evered, research manager of the Centre for Anaesthesia and Cognitive Function at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, said the surgery may be onsetting dementia for those already with slight memory loss.

Associate Professor Evered, speaking at the conference, reported on a study of 67 patients who had some cognitive loss before surgery. Nearly half – 43 per cent – of the patients had dementia one year later, which Ms Evered says is a very high rate.

''In the older population, you would expect 10 to 15 per cent who have mild cognitive impairment to progress to dementia over 12 months and we saw 43 per cent, which is significantly higher,'' she said.

It was interesting to note that one professor suggested the anaesthetics themselves were contributing to the problem. Professor Orser said laboratory tests performed on mice revealed the memory loss caused by the anaesthetic could be reversed with another drug.

''We're hopeful that there may be compounds that are able to at least in part reverse some of the memory deficits associated with anaesthesia and surgery. It's promising but it's early days,'' she said.

This revelation has called for renewed procedures when dealing with older patients. It could mean avoiding performing surgery on patients that are deemed as high risk or adding drugs to the process to cancel out the effects.

David Scott, the director of anaesthesia at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, pointed out that hospitals and medical professionals spent a great deal of time concerned with major organs like the heart and lungs while under anaesthetic, but forget to look after the brain.

"We treat their heart really well but we do nothing for the brain. We anaesthetise it and we expect it to get better straight away,'' he said.

Possible medical negligence 

If you or a family member has struggled with memory loss after major surgery, you could be eligible for medical compensation in the future.

While tests are still ongoing regarding the role anaesthetic plays in the onset of dementia, it would be a good idea to contact a medical negligence lawyer who can analyse your questions and possible claim.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.