WEDNESDAY, May 1, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Despite previous concerns, older people who receive general anesthesia are not at greater risk of developing long-term dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a new study says.
The study, by researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., involved 900 patients over the age of 45 who had dementia, a disease that affects brain functions such as memory, language, problem-solving and attention. All of the participants were residents of Olmsted County, Minn., from 1985 to 1994.
These patients were compared to other people of similar ages living in the area who did not develop dementia during that time frame.
About 70 percent of the study participants in both groups underwent surgery that required general anesthesia. Among patients who had already been diagnosed with dementia, there were no signs that their symptoms got worse due to receiving general anesthesia. Among those who did not have dementia, there was no evidence that they developed the disease after receiving general anesthesia, the investigators found.
The researchers concluded that general anesthesia does not increase elderly patients' long-term risk for dementia.
"It's reassuring we're adding to the body of knowledge that there is not an association of anesthesia and surgery with Alzheimer's," study senior author Dr. David Warner, a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said in a Mayo news release. "There are a lot of things to worry about when an elderly person has surgery, but it seems that developing Alzheimer's isn't one of them."
The study was published in the May 1 online edition of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences has more about anesthesia.