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Dementia Risk Raised 35% by General Anesthesia in Study

Older people who undergo general anesthesia for major surgery have a 35 percent higher risk of developing dementia later in life, according to a French study.

The findings are based on information from the Three-City Study, which included thousands of people age 65 and older in Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier starting in 1999. In a subpopulation of 7,008 citizens, 632 participants developed dementia over the course of the study, and those patients were more likely to have had general anesthesia than those who didn’t develop mental deterioration.

The findings support a theory that post-operative cognitive dysfunction, a common complication in elderly patients in which their thinking and memory is temporarily impaired, is associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. Previous research has suggested that some anesthetics may prompt inflammation of neural tissues, leading to early signs of Alzheimer’s disease including amyloid plaques and protein tangles in the brain.

“Recognition of post-operative cognitive dysfunction is essential in the perioperative management of elderly patients,” Francois Sztark, the lead researcher and an anesthesiologist at the University of Bordeaux, said in a statement. “A long-term follow-up of these patients should be planned.”

The study results will be presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Anaesthesiology, which begins today in Barcelona.

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