The Intensive Care Unit offers the best of care for critically ill patients. It is necessary in certain cases and the quality of care and technology available in the ICU has saved countless numbers of lives. But a recent study discovered that extended stays in the ICU can trigger dementia symptoms.
The Vanderbilt University study followed 800 patients after their ICU stay for a year. A whopping 75 percent exhibited signs of dementia during the study period. 1 in 3 exhibited symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The age of patients did not impact the display of symptoms. One example given in the article was a 46-year-old woman who spent three weeks in the ICU was still dealing with cognitive impairment issues 18 months later.
The study concluded that both serious illness and anesthesia drugs used during surgery could be dementia triggers.
My mother, who does not have dementia, had two surgeries last year that landed her in ICU. Her first surgery was of emergency nature and landed her for several days in the ICU. The second surgery was scheduled and Mom spent only the minimum amount of time in the ICU that is required post-surgery. Mom also had multiple complications (blood clots) with the first surgery. Her mental state was impaired for months after the first surgery but she was alert and talking just about an hour after the second surgery was completed. Her mental recovery from the second surgery was very quick.
When my dad had to have surgery to remove a kidney stone, he was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. His recovery was very slow and I do believe his cognitive functioning declined more rapidly than it had been before the surgery.
We can’t always avoid stays in the ICU, but advocates suggest asking for lighter sedation options when possible and trying to get patients engaged in mentally stimulating activities while they are recovering.
What has been you or your family member’s experience been like in the ICU?
2 responses to “ICU stays can trigger dementia”
I am fascinated by this study which mirrors my family’s experience. My Mother’s dementia emerged full blown after a knee replacement surgery when she was 84 years old. In retrospect, I am sure there were signs of cognitive impairment that she managed to cover. But the anesthesia stripped her of that ability. However, what concerns me is this: who will communicate these finding to families who are considering non-emergency surgery. As I discuss on A Swift Current, the orthopedic doctor told us he would never have done my mom’s procedure if he had known her mind was going. “She fooled me” he said. Her neurologist later told us she was very good at deflecting his questions; despite her dementia, she was savvy enough to purposefully evade him! SO…who is going to warn the families of the potential peril of surgery and the ICU? My Mom never saw the inside of her home again after the surgery; we were completely unprepared for the consequences of medical actions that were supposed to enable her to stay independent. Instead the opposite happened. And I repeat: Who is going to warn the families? Thanks for bringing up this crucial issue, Hallie (A Swift Current)
Good point Hallie. There is a need for more patient advocates and general awareness about this issue.