BUCKHANNON — If you or an older loved one has an upcoming elective surgery, here’s some news you will definitely want to read. Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center recently found evidence to suggest that like the body, the brain can also prepare for surgery by keeping the mind active and engaged.
Over the years, doctors have adopted techniques for patients anticipating surgery, which typically includes exercise, a healthy diet and controlling any chronic conditions. “However, none of these interventions address postoperative delirium, a complication especially common in older patients that causes mental confusion leading to longer hospital stays, slower recoveries and even an increased risk of death,” according to the OSU study.
Experts, such as OSU Wexner Medical Center’s Clinical Research Assistant Joshua Reyes, call this exercise for your brain “neurobics.” Neurobics are designed to create new neural pathways and increase cognition, according to OSU experts. Researchers gave 251 pre-surgical patients over the age of 60 a tablet loaded with a brain-game app and asked them to play an hour of games each day for the 10 days leading up to a major procedure requiring general anesthesia, to study the effects on delirium prevention.
Reyes told The Record Delta that researchers strategically selected the commercial brain game app, “Lumosity.” A lot of people are already familiar with Lumosity and it is one of the choice apps out there for brain games, Reyes explained. They chose an app, as opposed as to pen and paper, because they wanted a way to measure how much individuals played, and the amount of brain training and programming they were getting. He stated, “The Lumosity app, it focuses on a couple different domains of cognition such as memory, speed, flexibility, retention, things like that.” Reyes said the app offers a variety of games and is designed to challenge individual users based on their cognitive abilities.
Reyes stated, “In our intervention group, we asked patients to play up to 10 hours, but not all patients did that. The study showed most patients spent 4.6 hours on average across our intervention group. The study exhibited that those who participated in neurobics 5-10 hours cut their risk by more than half, and those who played the prescribed 10 hours or more had a 61 percent reduction in delirium rates compared to the control group.”
According to Dr. Michelle Humeidan, an anesthesiologist at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study, “Not all patients played the games as much as we asked, but those who played any at all saw some benefit. Patients who practiced neurobics were 40 percent less likely to experience postoperative delirium than those who did not, and the results improved the more hours they played.”
Reyes explained that eligibility criterion for this study were patients above the age of 60 with plans to undergo a major surgery, not including neurological or cardiovascular procedures. That was mainly due to the fact that patients who tend to go through neurological or cardiovascular procedures tend to go to the ICU afterwards, and measuring those patient’s cognitive status wouldn’t be as ideal for the study. Common procedures ideal for this study include orthopedic and gastrointestinal surgeries. Patients over the age of 60 were selected because research has exhibited that age is a contributing factor to individuals experiencing post-operative delirium more frequently.
Future research from OSU Wexner Medical Center anticipates exploring exactly how brain games impact mechanisms in the brain, and how often patients should practice neurobics to reap the full benefits. To do this, Reyes explained that they intend to really hone in on those specific gaming windows and optimize how much gaming is necessary to prevent those post-operative delirium outcomes after surgery. Instead of telling patients to play over a specific range of hours, they will likely have them play an exact number of games, or exact number of hours and compare from there.
According to Reyes, this research has identified a simple and easily accessible intervention to combat confusion after surgery. “It’s just really cool and a way we can help prevent post-operative delirium,” he asserted. There are presently no other preventions for post-operative delirium. When a patient presents symptoms, he said they are currently just treated as necessary, rather than utilizing prevention exercises to keep it from ever happening. Therefore, Reyes is hopeful that this research will be a preventative measure for post-operative delirium in the future. “This is something super powerful and it is going to make a difference,” he concluded.