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YOUR HEALTH: Can surgery alter the mind of older patients?

Florida researchers want to know if surgery affects the mind, especially for older Americans.

GAINESVILLE, Florida – Even the simplest surgery can have consequences.

And now researchers are trying to find out why some surgeries can have a big impact on the mind as we get older.

Debbie Hill loves looking at photos of her late husband James' adventures.   James loved being social, sailing, and serenading his loved ones.

"He was just somebody who lit up a room," she remembered

But as James got older, he was diagnosed with mild Alzheimer's, which worried Debbie when he went under the knife.

The first two times he had surgery his anesthesia was modified.   But the third time, when he went under regular general anesthesia for a broken hip, it was different.

"He was delirious," remembered Debbie.   "He was confused."

"Sometimes he hallucinated.   It broke my heart to see him not be the person that I knew him to be."

Debbie and James' story is not uncommon.

"Approximately a third of the individuals were having changes in their memory and thinking after having anesthesia and surgery," explained Catherine Price, director of the University of Florida's Perioperative Cognitive Anesthesia Network.

The network, also known as PeCAN, allows Price to study how someone's brain health before surgery can impact their recovery.

NEW RESEARCH:   The Perioperative Cognitive Anesthesia Network at the University of Florida includes interdisciplinary research, clinical, and training arms.   This effort represents an example of translation from clinical research to clinical care.   The clinical program is housed in UF Health's Pre-surgical Center where nurses and anesthesia clinical staff now routinely assess "cognitive vital signs".

Before surgery, they run an assessment of tests.

"(We) check attention, working memory, some planning, some prospective memory," she said.

If the patient performs poorly, doctors are notified.

"We can alert the anesthesiology and the surgery team and the geriatric nutritionist so how they can optimize the person's care," said Price.

And limit the risk for delirium.

Debbie's husband, James, did not take part in PeCAN research, but his story was a big inspiration in helping to launch the program in 2017.

After James died, his brain was donated to science for research.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.