Anesthesia/Surgery and Age-Related Brain Damage – Is there a Link

Anesthesia Surgery and Age Related Brain Damage – Is there a Link

With respect to safety concerns related to anesthesia, the medical community has observed a lot of dissonance during the last couple of years; particularly when it is about brain. But, since the cause of dementia – a very common brain disorder in adults – remains unclear, researchers and scientists shifted their attention to finding probable causes. Some studies say that anesthesia and surgery are associated with cognitive impairment and brain disease. But, recently a study that examined twins in Denmark suggests that surgery and anesthesia do not pose risks as believed by many. [1]

Aging is a very complicated process. It brings with itself many health issues and it has an impact on the brain too. Many types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease are becoming common among older people. Moreover, the doctors and researchers aren’t sure as to what causes the development of dementia and other cognitive issues. Sometimes, the cause remains unknown. Having conditions like high BP and diabetes ups the chances of having dementia as these directly damage the brain. However, the exact cause of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s is still a mystery.

Dr. Mehmet Oz says that while searching for possible causes, researchers and scientists did wonder about anesthesia and surgery. But, why did they think of these? Firstly, it was attributed to the stress of surgery, which could lead to inflammation, causing damage to the brain. Therefore surgery!

And, some said that it could be anesthesia because it acts on the brain and some animal studies have shown that animals, who were subjected to anesthetic drugs for elongated periods of time, exhibited brain damaging effects. Dr. Oz adds that some studies on humans have also demonstrated that longer surgeries are related to more cognitive issues than shorter ones.


However, not all studies claimed that surgeries are the reason for brain damage or brain issues. For example, people with heart problems have similar kind of brain issues irrespective of the fact whether they had undergone surgeries or not. A study that examined some colon cancer patients found that the cognitive impairment in people going through treatment was actually related to the dose of chemotherapy and not with the surgery. The crux is that people going through some type of treatment are relatively sicker, so the brains are more prone to damage; thus, increasing the risk of various types of dementia. Researchers further wanted to clear whether seniors going through surgeries should be worried about their brains.

Dr. Oz says that the researchers studied identical twins. Identical twins share the same genetic makeup and grow up in similar environments and have the same lifestyle. In the study, around 8,500 identical twins participated. Nearly 50% were above the age of 70 and 50% were below the age of 70. Then the medical and surgical history of the twins were studied. It was first compared to other twins and then, to their own identical twins. They wanted to find out if the cognitive abilities of those, who had undergone surgeries were different from those, who had not.

Anesthesia Surgery and Age Related Brain Damage – Is there a Link

About 66% of the adults had undergone surgeries at some point of time or the other. As per what is believed, people, who underwent some major surgery in their past were likely to score less on brain function tests as compared to their counterparts, who did not have surgery. There were no differences in people, who had minor surgeries. So, question is how the cognitive abilities varied in the pairs of twins in which one had undergone surgery while the other had not.

Strikingly, what was found was that in the 211 pairs of twins in which there was one twin that had undergone surgery and another twin without surgery, there were no differences between them; irrespective of when the surgery was done. This sheds light on the least possibility of existence of any association between various types of dementia and anesthesia or surgery.

You may wonder about the effects of anesthesia and surgery on brain, so you may give it a second thought to going under the knife and it may frighten you as well with respect to what would happen to the brain. Dr. Oz says that this research would certainly lessen your stress when it is about possible association of dementia with surgery or anesthesia. But, anesthesia and surgery may pose other risks and going for a surgery is not easy to choose. Thus, you should decide about it in collaboration with your doctor and loved ones, so that you can analyze the merits and demerits and decide if it’s right for you or not.