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General anesthesia responsible for brain injuries in young and old

According to a growing body of evidence, the repeated use of general anesthesia places patients at risk of brain injury. This appears to be especially true with respect to patients who are over the age of 65 and under the age of four.

As an example, Peter Falk, also known as TV detective Lt. Columbo, recently died from Alzheimer's which was caused by repeatedly inhaling general anesthesia to treat his gum disease.

Apparently once patients reach the age of 65, repeated inhalation of anesthesia drugs can cause an aging brain to suffer confusion, delirium and eventually dementia.

The same is true for children younger than age four. This is most likely because very young children's brains are still developing nerve cells, and their brains are particularly vulnerable during this rapid growth stage. Inhaling general anesthesia may prevent their brains from developing normally and may make them susceptible to behavioral and developmental problems later on in life.

Doctors recommend taking the following precautions before a scheduled surgery to help increase the safety of the procedure and prevent a brain injury:

  • Opt for a local anesthetic which is generally available in many cases.
  • If local anesthesia is not an option, help your brain reconnect as soon as possible after surgery by stimulating your brain with a window room, photos, a calendar, a radio and a clock.
  • Try other relaxation techniques in dentists' offices such as music and movies, along with a local anesthetic.
  • Avoid gum disease, the leading cause of dementia, by flossing your teeth regularly.

Connecticut doctors and dentists must be aware of the serious risks involved in the use of general anesthesia to all of their patients, but especially to those who are very young and whose brains are still developing, along with older patients whose brain cells are aging.

Source: The Pioneer Press, "The YOU Docs: General anesthesia can be risky for older, younger brains," 22 July 2011

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