By Lisa Rapaport/Reuters Health
Older adults who are faster on their feet may be less likely to suffer cognitive problems after heart surgery than patients who have difficulty walking, a Japanese study suggests.
All 181 patients in the study were undergoing non-emergency heart surgery at Nagoya University Hospital. Before surgery, researchers measured how far each participant could walk in six minutes and did assessments of memory, concentration and attention.
About two weeks after the surgery, they repeated the same battery of cognitive tests. Overall, 51 patients, or 28%, had developed cognitive problems. Half of these patients were unable to walk more than 400 metres in six minutes before surgery, while half of the participants who didn’t develop cognitive issues had walked at least 450 metres.
Each increase of 50 metres in walking distance before surgery was linked to a 19% decrease in the odds of cognitive problems after surgery, researchers found.
“This study is the first to indicate that the walking ability is a risk factor for postoperative cognitive dysfunction,” said lead study author Kazuhiro Hayashi of Nagoya University Hospital.
“Fortunately for patients, physical function could be improved . . . regardless of age,” Hayashi said by e-mail.
Temporary cognitive problems are common after heart surgery, the authors point out. A week after such operations, as many as 50% to 70% of patients have problems with memory, attention and other skills. The rate falls to 30% to 50% after six weeks, but persistent cognitive dysfunction at five years after surgery has been observed in 20% to 40% of patients, they write.
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