Can Anesthesia Cause Memory Problems?

Studies on anesthesia are continuously providing us with new information and a better understanding of the effects it may have on patients undergoing surgery. Many people are apprehensive before undergoing any procedure, but especially when it requires general anesthesia. Many studies have been conducted to answer the question can anesthesia cause memory problems? A new study shows that any cognitive changes in patients after anesthesia are very small and insignificant.

The study analyzed a group of middle-aged men and women, with an average age of 54 years old. 312 who had had one or more procedures that require general anesthesia and 652 people who had never been under general anesthesia. None of the people studied had ever had neurological or heart surgery, because both can affect cognitive performance. At the start of the study, all participants had normal cognitive functioning.

The results of the study showed that on average, the participants who had been under general anesthesia had small declines in immediate memory over a four year period. It also showed that people who were exposed to general anesthesia for longer periods of time, for longer surgeries, showed greater declines in executive functioning, which includes skills like planning and focusing.

While small changes were seen, study author Dr. Kirk Hogan, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, said “the cognitive changes after surgery are small — most probably asymptomatic and beneath a person’s awareness,”

Although this study did show some minor declines, researchers say the study results still cannot directly tie cognitive performance declines to anesthesia. Other conditions, the surgery itself, and other factors may affect these declines in the people involved in the study. This topic will continue to be studied, but this should give patients some peace of mind knowing that if there is some type of cognitive decline due to anesthesia, it is very insignificant and not noticeable to the average person. To learn more about anesthesia and what you need to know before a procedure, visit the Anesthesia Information for Surgery Patients section on the Steel City Anesthesia Website.