Anyone with a senior loved one who has undergone major surgery has likely experienced their disorientation that occurs immediately afterwards. After bypass surgery, my father was very confused and agitated in early recovery. It would have been helpful if my family had been made aware this is a very common occurrence after extensive time under an anesthetic. As we were unprepared, it was frightening and added to our stress over his condition. A recent study cited on MedicalNewsToday.com looked at cases of delirium older adults often suffer post-surgery after general anesthetic. While much more serious than disorientation, delirium in seniors in the recovery unit has often gone underdiagnosed by medical professionals.
According to the study that was published in Anesthesia & Analgesia, delirium is associated with a decrease in cognitive functioning, which often leads to increased admissions to skilled nursing facilities after surgery. The researchers defined delirium as “acute change in level of consciousness, inattention, and disturbed cognitive function.”
The testing was done on 91 older adults undergoing major surgery with general anesthesia. Participants’ average age was 79 and most were living independently before surgery. The patients were observed in recovery or the postanesthesia care unit (PACU). Using diagnostic criteria, the study found 45 percent of the patients had delirium in the PACU. In many of the patients, their delirium continued when moved to the hospital floors.
The study emphasized older adults with post-surgery delirium are more likely to be discharged to a nursing home or other facility instead of going home – 39 percent instead of the 3 percent of patients without delirium in the PACU. The study’s authors found this to be a “common, but not universal” problem, as 55 percent of the patients did not have delirium in the PACU. Of those, 80 percent remained normal during their hospitalization.
There are concerns that even brief episodes of delirium may have lasting effects in older adults and researchers noted many cases of delirium would have been missed if monitoring hadn’t started in the recovery room. They believe further studies of early delirium after anesthesia and surgery are needed, including long-term patient outcomes.