Frailty Is Associated With Postoperative Delirium But Not With Postoperative Cognitive Decline in Older Noncardiac Surgery Patients

Anesth Analg. 2020 Jun;130(6):1516-1523. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000004773.


Background: Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) and delirium are the most common perioperative cognitive complications in older adults undergoing surgery. A recent study of cardiac surgery patients suggests that physical frailty is a risk factor for both complications. We sought to examine the relationship between preoperative frailty and postoperative delirium and preoperative frailty and POCD after major noncardiac surgery.

Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of patients >65 years old having major elective noncardiac surgery with general anesthesia. Exclusion criteria were preexisting dementia, inability to consent, cardiac, intracranial, or emergency surgery. Preoperative frailty was determined using the FRAIL scale, a simple questionnaire that categorizes patients as robust, prefrail, or frail. Delirium was assessed with the Confusion Assessment Method for the intensive care unit (CAM-ICU) twice daily, starting in the recovery room until hospital discharge. All patients were assessed with neuropsychological tests (California Verbal Learning Test II, Trail Making Test, subtests from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Logical Memory Story A, Immediate and Delayed Recall, Animal and Vegetable verbal fluency, Boston Naming Test, and the Mini-Mental Status Examination) before surgery and at 3 months afterward.

Results: A total of 178 patients met inclusion criteria; 167 underwent major surgery and 150 were available for follow-up 3 months after surgery. The median age was 70 years old. Thirty-one patients (18.6%) tested as frail, and 72 (43.1%) prefrail before surgery. After adjustment for baseline cognitive score, age, education, surgery duration, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) physical status, type of surgery, and sex, patients who tested frail or prefrail had an estimated 2.7 times the odds of delirium (97.5% confidence interval, 1.0-7.3) when compared to patients who were robust. There was no significant difference between the proportion of POCD between patients who tested as frail, prefrail, or robust.

Conclusions: After adjustment for baseline cognition, testing as frail or prefrail with the FRAIL scale is associated with increased odds of postoperative delirium, but not POCD after noncardiac surgery.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Delirium / complications*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Frail Elderly
  • Frailty / complications*
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Postoperative Cognitive Complications*
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires