Postoperative delirium in elderly patients is associated with subsequent cognitive impairment

Br J Anaesth. 2017 Aug 1;119(2):316-323. doi: 10.1093/bja/aex130.


Background: We examined the risk for postoperative delirium (POD) in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia, and the association between POD and subsequent development of MCI or dementia in cognitively normal elderly patients.

Methods: Patients ≥65 yr of age enrolled in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging who were exposed to any type of anaesthesia from 2004 to 2014 were included. Cognitive status was evaluated before and after surgery by neuropsychological testing and clinical assessment, and was defined as normal or MCI/dementia. Postoperative delirium was detected with the Confusion Assessment Method for the intensive care unit. Logistic regression analyses were performed.

Results: Among 2014 surgical patients, 74 (3.7%) developed POD. Before surgery, 1667 participants were cognitively normal, and 347 met MCI/dementia criteria. The frequency of POD was higher in patients with pre-existing MCI/dementia compared with no MCI/dementia {8.7 vs 2.6%; odds ratio (OR) 2.53, [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.52-4.21]; P <0.001}. Postoperative delirium was associated with lower education [OR, 3.40 (95% CI, 1.60-7.40); P =0.002 for those with <12 vs ≥16 yr of schooling]. Of the 1667 patients cognitively normal at their most recent assessment, 1152 returned for postoperative evaluation, and 109 (9.5%) met MCI/dementia criteria. The frequency of MCI/dementia at the first postoperative evaluation was higher in patients who experienced POD compared with those who did not [33.3 vs 9.0%; adjusted OR, 3.00 (95% CI, 1.12-8.05); P =0.029].

Conclusions: Mild cognitive impairment or dementia is a risk for POD. Elderly patients who have not been diagnosed with MCI or dementia but experience POD are more likely to be diagnosed subsequently with MCI or dementia.

Keywords: aged, humans; delirium; dementia; female; anaesthesia; general; male; mild cognitive impairment; surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology*
  • Delirium / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*