Did the surgery make his dementia worse?

Mehp asked...

My husband has dementia which began over 10 yrs ago. He suffered sleep apnea and had corrective surgery 8 days ago along with removing excess tissue from his soft palate but I am afraid the stress from the surgery accelerated his dementia. He has forgotten how to do many things and gets confused easily. He was experiencing this before the surgery but not as much as now. The surgery improved his sleep, snoring and apnea so he sleeps much better but now I am finding myself under too much stress and doubt about whether this surgery should have been done. I am hoping he will regain some of his functions after the healing is well on its way. What should I expect, as I seem to still be in denial about his dementia after years of keeping him on a healthy, preventative diet? I always held out hope that some day he would improve. Thanks

Expert Answer

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

It's very likely that the surgery caused the acceleration your husband's dementia. Physical or emotional trauma can cause a sharp decline in people with dementia; the anesthesia given during surgery is particularly troublesome. Anesthesia is known to cause or escalate cognitive impairment in some people, while others are unscathed. It can take weeks for the effects of anesthesia to wear off in anyone, regardless of cognitive status. By the time this response reaches you, hopefully your husband has already regained some of his ability.

As caregivers we strive to minimize risks to our loved ones already compromised by dementia or Alzheimer's, including keeping invasive procedures, pharmaceuticals and surgeries to an absolute minimum. There are times however when we're faced with difficult choices: Quality of life versus cognition. Nobody would question surgery for a broken hip. On the other hand, elective surgery may improve physical well being while causing a decline in cognition for a person with dementia. Each case has to be decided on its own merits. You're questioning your own decision to have your husband undergo his surgery. You were in a tough position and you had to do what you thought best at the time. You'll probably find that even if his cognition may have declined, your husband's spirit in general is much improved.

Apnea affects a person's quality of life by robbing him of the energy and clarity that comes with a good night's sleep. Sleep deprivation also compromises the immune system and leaves a person susceptible to illness and infections. In the worst cases, apnea is life threatening.

It's apparent that you love your husband very much and you're doing all possible for him. His improved sleep after the surgery will help his general well being. A healthy diet and a rich social life are important for the brain and body, so by all means keep doing everything you can to keep both of you as healthy and engaged as possible. Unfortunately so far we've found no diet, supplement, exercise, or pharmaceutical regimen to prevent or reverse the progression of dementia. But people living with dementia and their caregivers can still have full life-experiences. We can help both of us by seizing each day as a new opportunity to connect with our loved ones by working with their strengths and adapting our communication and approaches to the shortcomings brought on by the dementia. Try to share as many happy moments and laughs as possible.

My website offers you care giving tips and ideas: www.alzatoz.com