Lower your risk of post-op delirium

Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 10:39 AM EST
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Delirium can be very common after surgery. In fact, each year more than 50 percent of hospitalized patients over the age of 65 experience delirium. Older age and dementia are risk factors, but so is something that occurs during surgery.

Surgery can be a scary time for many, but the time after surgery can be even scarier. Just ask Debbie Hill whose late husband, James, was not the same after waking up from hip surgery.

“He was delirious. He was confused. Sometimes he hallucinated. It broke my heart to see him not be the person that I knew him to be,” shared Debbie.

“A fifth of patients will experience some form of delirium after surgery,” explained Frederic T. Billings, IV, MD, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Researchers at Vanderbilt conducted a study to look at the link between oxidative damage, or the excess of free radicals in the body’s cells, and postoperative delirium in cardiac surgery patients.

“People who had higher oxidative damage during cardiac surgery had increased odds of developing delirium after surgery,” said Marcos Lopez, MD, an assistant professor of anesthesiology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

One way researchers believe they can stop the oxidative damage is by reducing the amount of excess oxygen administered during surgery.

“Through our manipulation of the amount of oxygen we’re giving throughout the surgery, we may be able to reduce delirium after surgery,” stated Dr. Billings.

Another way to help the patient is avoiding exposure to brain-altering medications, such as sedatives and painkillers and having supportive care from hospital staff and family, such as …

“Working on night and day sleep cycles, so called sleep hygiene. It’s getting them out of bed. It’s trying to restore some activities of daily living,” Dr. Billings continued.

So they can rehabilitate both their body and mind.

The researchers say in surgery, patients typically do face oxidative damage, but the severity can increase the risk for delirium. On average, those patients who developed delirium required two to three extra days of hospitalization.

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