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Post-Op Delirium's Toll on Mental Function May Linger: Study
Date:7/5/2012

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 4 (HealthDay News) -- The delirium that sometimes follows surgery may leave older heart patients with lingering problems with their mental function, including memory and attention, a new study shows.

The findings call into question the prevailing belief that postoperative delirium -- which is very common among older people hospitalized for surgery -- usually gets better quickly, researchers said.

"Delirium after cardiac surgery has been thought of as a brief, reversible condition, but new research is suggesting that [mental] recovery for some people may take much longer than thought, and that there are long-term cognitive consequences," said study co-lead author Jane Saczynski, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Saczynski, along with colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Aging Brain Center at Hebrew SeniorLife, both in Boston, tracked the one-year outcomes of 225 patients aged 60 to 90 who underwent either coronary-artery bypass grafting or heart-valve-replacement surgery at three hospitals in the Boston area. Each patients' mental functioning was tested before their surgery. Mental function was tested again in the days following surgery, as well as at one, six and 12 months post-surgery.

About half the patients (46 percent) developed post-operative delirium, which often involves symptoms such as confusion, disorientation about place and time, agitation, and other changes in thinking and behavior. Among those patients who developed delirium, 55 percent reported it lasted for two days or less and 35 percent said it lasted for three or more days.

Most surgical patients experienced a drop in mental functioning right after surgery, whether they experienced delirium or not. Among patients who became delirious after surgery, however, this drop in mental acuity was much s
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