Receiving general anesthesia for surgery after age 40 doesn’t appear to raise the risk for mild thinking and memory problems later in life, a new study finds.
Mayo Clinic researchers followed more than 1,700 people in Minnesota, aged 70 to 89, who had normal mental function when the study began in 2004. About 85 percent of the participants had at least one surgery requiring general anesthesia after age 40. The study participants were evaluated every 15 months.
“The bottom line of our study is that we did not find an association between exposure to anesthesia for surgery and the development of mild cognitive [mental] impairment in these patients,” study senior author and anesthesiologist Dr. David Warner said in a Mayo news release.
Of the participants, 31 percent developed mild thinking and memory problems during the study period, but it was not associated with their anesthesia exposure, the researchers said.
The findings were published in the February issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
A previous Mayo study found that older patients who receive anesthesia do not have an increased risk of dementia.
The investigators behind the new study are also examining how general anesthesia affects young children and have noted some associations between childhood anesthesia and learning and memory problems later in life.
“That by no means is established yet. Right now it’s just associations, and we and many other people are doing a lot of work to try to see if this really is a problem in children or not,” Warner said in the news release.
“Because of the associations that we’ve seen, there is more concern in the young than the old, and it will require quite a bit more research to find out what is happening with the children, and if there is a problem, how we can best address it,” he added.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists has more about anesthesia.