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Postoperative Delirium in Seniors

Posted June 7, 2021

Surgery comes with risks and the potential for complications, but for seniors undergoing major surgery, there is an additional risk of postoperative delirium. It can manifest as mildly as seeing ant-like insects on walls and objects or complete paranoid episodes where the patient does not understand where he or she is or why. Delirium occurs in approximately 53 percent of patients over 65 after major surgery. It may be caused by many factors, including medication, anesthesia, immobilization, and the impact of surgery itself, but it is almost always temporary. It can usually be managed with activities such as walking, hydration, being sure patients have everything needed to orient themselves (eyeglasses or hearing aids), and ensuring quality sleep.

Most cases of delirium last a week or less, with symptoms that gradually decline as the patient recovers from surgery. However, the condition can last for weeks or months in patients with underlying memory or cognitive challenges such as dementia, vision, or hearing impairment, or a history of post-operative delirium. Other risk factors can include infection, recent trauma, or an adverse reaction to medication. Plains Area Mental Health takes pride in treating the whole person by assessing both mental health conditions as well as substance use disorder conditions. Call one of our offices today or take our free online assessment found on this website.

P.S. Friends and family members of elderly patients suffering from postoperative delirium can help by visiting as often as possible and bringing familiar objects such as a favorite blanket or photos.

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