UF program tries to help older minds after surgery

Studies have shown some senior citizens' minds go through changes after surgery.

Published: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 11:23 p.m.
For those above the age of 60, surgical recovery is not just a process for the body, but for the mind.
Studies have shown older adults who undergo heart surgery, have knee or hip replacement or have some other form of major surgery often have changes in memory, mood or attention after surgery.
University of Florida researcher Catherine Price has developed a program to help predict who is most likely to show such cognitive changes after surgery. Once identified pre-surgery, the patient can be followed and if necessary, an intervention team can work with them to regain what has been lost.
"We can help by getting a baseline before surgery," Price said. "The key is to look at their strengths and weaknesses are beforehand, so we can get them back to that point after surgery."
To get that "baseline," the team meets with the patient for a couple of hours in advance, doing standardized tests for attention, memory and language skills.
The process allows a unique opportunity to look at the connections between the body and the brain, Price said.
Cognitive changes can include confusion in the days after surgery or short-term memory loss. Mood swings can be a longer-term problem for some.
"I thought we should be keeping an eye out, especially for people coming in for surgery who have had memory problems beforehand," Price added.
The problems could be a result of early-stage Alzheimer's disease or just a lack of social support, according to the researcher.
Price, a neuropsychologist, is a research assistant professor in the department of clinical and health psychology in UF's College of Public Health and Health Professions. She is partnering with Dawn Bowers and Russ Bauer on the project.
To test how widespread the problems might be, Price screened anyone above the age of 60 who came into Shands at UF for any type of surgery during one week. She found that 40 percent had some signs of depression or some sort of memory problem that was disturbing.
To get the mind in optimal shape for surgery, Price said, it can be exercised in advance with practice sessions and challenging mental games.
"Why have major surgery to improve your quality of life, only to be faced with memory problems afterwards?" she asked.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@ gvillesun.com. To learn more Contact the Shands at UF psychology clinic at (352) 265-0294 or call Catherine Price at (352) 273-5272.

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