Knee surgery — bad for the brain? One in five older adults suffer weakening of brain networks after joint replacement

Surgery is a major decision for the patient, his or her family, and the attending physician. It requires prolonged hospital confinement, physical preparation, and much expense. Doctors and patients weigh the dangers non-performance of the operation has on the person against his or her chances of getting rid of, or suffering less from, the illness.

The hope is that recovery occurs, not necessarily soon, but after a period of the time when the patient has rested, taken his medications, undergone therapy and fulfilled other tasks his physician expects him to do. Most surgeries have potential side effects, but modern science is supposed to have minimized or eliminated these.

University of Florida study, however, showed that 23 percent of adults aged 60 and up who had knee replacement surgery showed decreased activity in at least one region of the brain responsible for cognitive functions, with 15 percent of the participants having a complete mental decline.

Researchers wanted to find out what causes problems in a patient’s cognitive functions after they undergo surgery. They used resting-state functional MRI to look at blood flow patterns in the brain while patients were inactive. They also studied imaging data to understand how changes in blood flow influenced connections in brain networks related to memory and how the patients chose people, places, and events that deserve their attention.

Dr. Jared Tanner, the study’s co-lead author explained what happened. “Normally synchronized parts of the brain appeared more out of sync after surgery.”

Patients who had memory problems, or those who were slow in processing information, and those who showed signs of brain aging before surgery exhibited the greatest mental decline after knee surgery. This didn’t apply to the non-surgery group which showed no signs of mental decline. (Related: Five Natural Ways to Avoid Knee Surgery.)

The study supplements 50 years of research, which showed that old age and mental decline are possible side effects of surgery. Current studies are now digging into the causes of this mental decline, even as Dr. Haiquing Huang, the study’s other lead co-author, expressed surprise at how surgery can affect the brain so much.

All is not lost, however. The study’s authors believe in the brain’s ability to bounce back after surgery.

According to Tanner, exercise, a Mediterranean-style diet, mental and social activity and other healthy practices can help the brain retain its normal functions after surgery.

Keeping your brain young

Here are some ways to keep your brain young:

  • Seek mental stimulation. Research shows that brain activities create new connections between nerve cells, and may help the brain develop new cells. So read, take new courses, solve word puzzles and math problems. Draw, paint, study calligraphy and other courses that require mental effort.
  • Exercise. Research shows that flexing your muscles makes the brain more efficient and adaptive. It lowers stress, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. These, too, are good for your brain.
  • Eat healthy food. Those who eat a Mediterranean style diet lower their chances of developing mental problems like dementia.
  • Control your blood pressure levels. Hypertension in middle age raises the risk of mental decline later in life.
  • Watch your blood sugar level. Diabetes puts you at risk for dementia. Prevent diabetes by exercising regularly and watching your weight.
  • Reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your system. High levels of bad cholesterol may lead to dementia.
  • Don’t smoke. A research team at King’s College London report that smokers are likely to develop schizophrenia earlier than others because nicotine can alter the brain.
  • Don’t drink too much. This, too, can cause dementia.
  • Be happy. Anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived and tired people fare poorly in cognitive tests.
  • Be friendly. People with a network of friends are less vulnerable to dementia.

Learn more about taking care of your brain by following

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