Leisure Habits May Offset Risk of Delirium in Older Adults

Delirium is a frightful experience for older adults and families as a senior may experience sudden mental confusion following a surgery. The event is relatively common and is a major post-surgery complication for older adults.

New research suggests older adults who have higher levels of “cognitive reserve” may be able to reduce their chances of developing dementia, which theoretically could reduce the risks for developing delirium.

Researchers explain the concept of cognitive reserve by imagining your brain as a muscle. When you exercise a muscle, you strengthen it. Activities such as reading, playing computer games, singing, emailing, and even knitting may act as “exercise” for your brain, “strengthening” it in a way that could help prevent dementia and delirium.

In a new study, scientists from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y., examined whether certain leisure activities known to reduce dementia risks could also reduce the risk of post-surgical delirium.

Their findings appear in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers examined a group of 142 older adults who were scheduled for elective knee, hip, or spinal surgery. They determined whether or not the people participated in leisure activities such as reading books or newspapers, knitting, emailing, playing cards or other games, working on crossword puzzles, or joining in group meetings.

Of those involved in the study, 32 percent developed post-operative delirium. Those who were diagnosed with delirium had participated in fewer leisure activities before surgery compared with people who didn’t experience delirium.

Out of all the activities, reading books, using email, and playing computer games reduced the risk of delirium. Playing computer games and singing were the only two activities that predicted lower severity of delirium.

The researchers reported that each additional day of participation in a leisure activity reduced post-operative delirium by eight percent.

Therefore, maintaining leisure activities later in life and working to maintain a mental edge could be an important way to lessen the chances of developing delirium following surgery.

Investigators explain that this is important, since delirium increases an older adult’s risk for functional decline, dementia, and even mortality. What’s more, people with severe post-operative delirium are at greater risk for being institutionalized and for dying.

Source: Health in Aging Foundation/EurekAlert