Cognition Can Change After Bypass Surgery

Cardiac bypass surgery has become increasingly safer in recent years with the advancement of the procedure, and although the risk of stroke has dropped in the past 30 years, there is still a chance some patients may develop cognitive problems.  About 213,700 Americans have bypass surgery each year, many of them older adults with multiple chronic health conditions.  And some will demonstrate cognitive impairment as a result of having been put on a heart-lung bypass machine during surgery.   What’s important for patients and caregivers to know is that with proper aftercare, a change in cognitive function is usually reversible. 

Elderly patients have a greater risk for cognitive impairment and although all the causes of a decline in brain function are not fully understood, talking with your doctor about any problems with thinking, memory, vision or speech can improve rehabilitation.  In some cases medication, along with changes in diet and physical activity, may be prescribed to control the progression of any cognitive impairment. 

Although changes in vision are not unusual following bypass surgery, doctors recommend that patients wait a few months before getting a new prescription to see if eyesight improves.  Short-term memory loss, slower thought processing and trouble solving problems or making decisions are some of the signs of cognitive impairment.  Following instructions closely during cardiac rehabilitation after surgery and properly controlling high blood pressure or diabetes, along with other lifestyle changes will help ensure a more full recovery. 

If surgery for a heart condition will improve quality and lengthen life, patients are likely to have a lower risk for cognitive decline with surgery than with drug therapy, according to the Harvard Health Blog.   Surgery to open severe narrowing of the carotid arteries also lowers the risk for a stroke when compared with treatment with medication.   Lifestyle choices; diet, activity level, weight, smoking, alcohol intake and controlling blood pressure are the most common causes of cognitive decline in older age. 

Tips to Prevent Cognitive Decline 

  • Eat a Mediterranean-style diet
  • Stay physically active with at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week
  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Control blood pressure
  • Limit alcohol: no more than one drink per day for women and two for men