For seniors, experiencing surgery always includes some inherent risks, but there’s a little-known effect impacting a significant number of seniors following surgery that people all need to be aware of: POCD (postoperative cognitive dysfunction). POCD takes place in more than 25% of seniors during the days after non-cardiac surgery, and can present with a variety of symptoms, some that can easily be almost indiscernible: forgetfulness, loss in concentration and focus, along with other types of cognitive decline that impact quality of life.

Research points towards the medical procedure itself together with associated stress, rather than anesthesia, as the culprit in POCD. Per Dr. Roderic Eckenhoff, vice chair for research and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania professor of anesthesiology, “Most surgery causes peripheral inflammation. In young people, the brain remains largely isolated from that inflammation, but with older people, our blood-brain barrier becomes kind of leaky. That contributes to neuroinflammation, which activates a whole cascade of events in the brain that can accelerate the ongoing aging process.”

There are many unknowns to be researched to ascertain how to prevent and/or effectively treat POCD: how to measure it most effectively, whether or not it plays a role in a continuum of brain disorders post-surgery or is a standalone condition, and exactly how to distinguish it from typical brain functionality later in life. Researchers are currently trying to better understand POCD, with several scientific publications preparing to publish the newest information and developments at a future POCD summit.

While typically a temporary condition, POCD is a risk factor which should be talked about with the physician prior to surgery for an older adult, especially if the senior has existing cognitive concerns. And for all seniors undergoing surgery, it’s a wise idea to refrain from activities which are cognitively stressful for 30 days post-surgery.

North River Home Care is the perfect post-procedure partner to allow older adults the chance to rest and fully recover from surgery, offering personalized, in-home help with a multitude of tasks. Whether the need is for help with household chores and meals during recovery, picking up prescription refills and groceries, light housework and organization around the home, or assistance with personal care, safe ambulation and fall prevention, we’re readily available for as much or as little assistance as necessary. Give us a call at 781-659-1366 for more information or to schedule a free of charge in-home assessment to find out the ways we can best assist your senior loved one.