Nearly 56 percent of all hospitalized seniors over the age of 65 experience delirium shortly after having a surgery or fighting off a serious illness. Harvard Medical School reports this issue can not only affect a person's well-being, but it can delay their return home, or force them to hire elderly care professionals in order to remain at home until the issue subsides. In most cases delirium will go away shortly after a person's surgery, but a new study suggests in some instances, the condition may lead to long-term cognitive impairment.
To test this theory, scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School recruited 225 patients between the ages of 60 and 90 who were due to undergo either a coronary artery bypass grafting or a heart valve replacement surgery. Each participant was then followed for a year for researchers to check for delirium or cognitive impairment.
From the data, researchers found 103 patients developed delirium following their surgeries, 46 percent of these participants also experienced a significant drop in cognitive performance immediately after going under the knife. These seniors also took longer to return to their pre-surgical levels of function over patients who did not develop delirium. Five days after surgery, nearly half of patients who did not develop delirium returned to normal function, while less than 20 percent of people with delirium experienced similar results. Researchers also noticed that when people with delirium were given longer, more thorough rehabilitation treatments, they were better able to gain a sense of normalcy again.
"Since patients who experience delirium continue to show improvement in cognitive function six months after surgery, extending additional rehabilitation services to these patients may have added benefits," said Richard N. Jones, co-author of the study.
Jones added the findings may also highlight the importance of identifying delirium soon after a senior has surgery in order to offer them the correct treatment to help curb the side effects.