Understanding the risks of major surgeries and why more research needs to be done.

Understanding the risks of major surgeries

Sun Apr 24

Sometimes solving one problem introduces another, and that certainly is a scary thought when considering milestone medical operations. Despite a paper from 1887 on the hidden consequences of surgery to brain function, major procedures like open heart surgery have become normal without attention to the side effects on cognition.

Anecdotal evidence is cropping up from older patients with significant cognitive decline following surgery. One woman describes how her grandfather, formerly a keen chess player, is now completely unable to play the game after a cardiac procedure. Alarmed Alzheimer’s researchers are now paying attention with a particular interest in how such operations may be accelerating the appearance of dementia.

And there’s a name for this too: postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), which describes the “cognitive problems associated with surgery that persist well after the effects of anesthetics have worn off.” In the past two decades, studies have shown the symptoms of POCD are broad and include issues with memory, attention, judgment, and even perception. For example, some with POCD symptoms have difficulty with writing, managing money, remembering lists, and may even have lowered social abilities.

The mystery of how POCD occurs is still being investigated, with some theorizing that it’s the body’s reaction to the surgery itself. For now, the risk for POCD has become so apparent for those over 65 — especially when under deep sedation — that some doctors are pushing for it to be a considered risk factor before performing significant surgeries.

Below the Fold Bytes

Turtley Awesome Discovery

We often hear the somber stories of animals on the brink of extinction — but what about those coming out of it? A giant tortoise considered extinct for over 100 years was recently spotted in the Galapagos for the first time since 1906. Researchers named her Fernanda after her island home, which is not the same island as the original 1906 giant tortoises. Researchers believe the non-swimming giant tortoise may have actually just floated to its current island. The discovery prompts a host of other questions, including the possibility of species revival, and especially underscores the importance of museum collections in answering them. We’re now all on our toes (or shells?) to hear if further funding will be unlocked to search for more of her kind.

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Coal Divestment: Noob Move? 

ESG investors called on BHP, an Australian resources mining company, to blanket withdraw from coal mining years ago. This meant speedy sell-off of the company's coal assets, which similar companies were pressured into doing as well. ESG investor cheered until they realized that the efforts backfired, resulting in more coal mining instead of less. Anglo, a large mining company from the U.K., created a spin-off company to purchase its coal assets who then immediately announced expansion plans for the coal mines to meet high demand and prices. BHP is now changing plans and extending the life of their coal mines to both capture high profit and “responsibly close” the mines, as demanded by investors who want to avoid an Anglo scenario.

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🎬 Action of the Week

Still piecing together the impact coal has on our environment? The U.S. Energy Information Administration has a short explainer to help get you caught up. 


ASCII-ing About the News

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We can’t help but shell-ebrate the discovery of this turtle!

Art Credit: Joan G. Stark

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