International Psychogeriatrics

Guest Editorial

Anesthesia and Alzheimer's disease: time to wake up!

David A. Scotta1, Brendan S. Silberta1 and Lisbeth A. Evereda1

a1 Centre for Anaesthesia and Cognitive Function, Department of Anaesthesia, St. Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia Email: david.scott@svhm.org.au

It has long been observed that some patients suffer a significant cognitive impact following anesthesia and surgery. This should not be surprising when considering that not only is the target organ for general anesthetic agents the brain itself but also that the process of anesthesia is a form of deep, pharmacologically induced coma rather than “sleep.” The expectation that such a process should be fully reversible with transient neurophysiological effects contradicts our experience with repeated abuse of other central nervous system depressants such as glue, petrol, and alcohol. Of great concern is that, while approximately 10% of populations in developed countries undergo anesthesia and surgery of some form each year, the proportion of the elderly making up this group is much greater. In addition, it is the elderly who are potentially at a greater risk of cognitive impairment following such procedures because many have decreased cognitive reserve, either due to pre-existing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or frank dementia, which may be diagnosed or unknown. The impact of anesthesia on these individuals is poorly understood, as are the implications of the emerging laboratory data that suggest an effect of anesthetic agents on the pathological processes of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) itself.

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