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Saturday, June 07, 2008 Nancy, Community Member, asks

Q: what are the effects of anesthesia on dementia?

Back surgery has been recommended because of problems w/vertebrea.  We were told that w/out the surgery there was a good chance she would be in a wheelchair w/no  bladder/bowel control.  My mother is 82, my dad 83.  She has constant pain in her legs, she is frail (100 pounds, maybe), mid stage altzimers.

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Answers (3)
Dorian Martin, Health Guide
6/ 8/08 6:00pm

Hi, Nancy,


I am so sorry aout your mother's situation. I am not a medical doctor, but from what I understand, anesthesia does tend to worsen dementia.


You might be interested in a couple of blogs that Carol Bursack and I wrote about a new approach to medicine, called Slow Medicine. The reason that I bring this to your attention is the approach allows families to take into account all potential outcomes concerning treatment of a loved one's various health issues.


Carol's blog is located at:


My blog is at:


Take care and keep us posted!






narkose, Community Member
6/14/10 4:49pm

As a physician & anesthesiologist, I empathize with your situation. When I needed a total hip replacement 2 years ago, I was aboslutely certain to have a brain monitor.


My recommendation is that under no circumstances should your mother have anesthesia without a brain monitor. The bispectral (BIS) index is the most widely used brain monitor.


A brain monitor cannot undo your mother's mental problems but will most definitely avoid having her receive more anesthetic than her brain requires.


Good luck.


Barry L. Friedberg, M.D.

President, non-profit, Goldilocks Anesthesia

NC, Community Member
6/14/10 5:44pm

I think this is a hard question. There is no easy answer. It is up to you and your parents. Know all the pros and cons and decide upon it. It is for your mother and your Dad is old too to take care of her. Also any major surgery does affect the Alzheimer's patient even if anesthesia is ok. From my experience with my father-in-law who has late Alzheimer's, the surgery or procedure (local anesthesia) or even hospitalization itself will bring down the dementia as well and he gets worse each time after the hospitalization or procedures and etc. Slowly, not very visibly, but more visible later on as the stage gets worse.

Even if anesthesia may be perfect using brain monitor, somehow the brain will get stimulation from the surgery/process and the anxiety/confusion will make it worse. I don't know how she is now, but my father-in-law thinks people in the hospital are out to kill him after the first day and he also pulls out all the ivs and tubings.... It is very difficult for an Alzheimer's patient to undertake any major surgery. Also, the back surgeon may not understand the impact on Alzheimer's because he is not a neurologist. Anyway, it is not just anesthesia. It is also a problem for Alzheimer's patient to take upon the stress and impact and etc.


Do it only if you must. It is hard. I think it is the balance between the two (the brain and the back) and it is a matter of quality of life and not having surgery does not necessarily make her suffer less.


Just my 2 cents.


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By Nancy, Community Member— Last Modified: 06/17/12, First Published: 06/07/08