General anaesthetic

General anaesthetic and Alzheimers finds there's a higher risk for the very young and elderly undergoing surgery; heart surgeons call it "by-pass brain."

Alzheimer's disease is a tragic development after a general anaesthetic. Almost everyone knows someone who sadly developed what was presumed to be 'Alzheimer's Disease' after surgery. Were they about to develop the disease anyway? Specialists are now acknowledging that the very young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to "By-pass brain" after a general anesthetic.

"If you do a perfect operation, and you have someone who comes out with say a perfect heart, it's just heart-wrenching if you have a neurological dysfunction."

- Dr Aubrey Galloway, Chairman of cardio-thoracic surgery: New York University School of Medicine.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that more than half of heart by-pass patients awake with cognitive dysfunction, ranging from a stroke to memory loss.

This page was last updated by Dr Barrie Lewis on 4th July, 2019.

General anaesthetic

General anaesthetic finds there's higher risk for the very young and elderly undergoing surgery.

General anaesthetic.

World congress of anaesthesiologists

The risk of permanent harm to neonates and the elderly from anaesthetic drugs was a hot topic at the World Congress of Anaesthesiologists in Cape Town early in 2008.

Professor Mike James

Professor Mike James, UCT head of general anaesthesia and co-chairman of the Congress Scientific Programme, said: “Evidence is emerging on how anaesthetic drugs might alter the functions of the brain in the very young and older patients, and that this may be permanent."

“This shows the need for more precise, better-targeted anaesthetic drugs,” said James, who is also head of the SA Society of Anaesthesiologists.

As many as 10 percent of older patients run the risk of losing brain function after undergoing an anaesthetic and surgery.

Professor Duncan Mitchell

Emeritus Professor Duncan Mitchell, of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Brain Function Research Group, said: “Every time you have an anaesthetic you lose neurons and since elderly people have fewer neurons, they lose proportionately more neurons.”

Typically, patients recuperate fully from the operation but sometimes their cognitive function is impaired permanently.


Professor Maze

Professor Maze said: “Elderly patients who go in for a hip or knee operation, for example, may be able to walk afterwards but not remember where they are walking to.”

He believes this loss in brain functioning is induced by inflammation related to the surgery rather than the anesthetic itself.

A anaesthetic and surgery may be the catalyst that pushes vulnerable patients over the edge into Alzheimer's disease and short-term memory loss.

Have all the alternatives been explored?

Alzheimer's disease

Serious cognitive decline after a general anaesthetic, on the one hand, and Alzheimer's disease are really two quite different conditions. Yet to the casual observer they have much in common; short term memory loss.

Stones in my clog

Chiropractor Dr Bernard Preston tells in his book Stones in my clog how five years after a routine vasectomy a doctor confided that she nearly "lost" him during the general anaesthetic. Today, it's done under a local for this reason.

This delightful book of chiropractic anecdotes takes the reader on a tour of chiropractic in a different culture... in the polders of Holland. Available currently only as an ebook @ $2.99

As you can see from the cover and title, Stones in my Clog is a light book, written in fact in the James Herriot genre, yet serious issues are tackled.

Experience a different culture, walk with Preston as he makes his way through the polders, and minefields, of living and practising amongst an ancient and very different people.

Cover of Stones in my Clog by Dr Bernard Preston.

Chiropractic help

Chiropractic help is obviously in the business of avoiding surgery, and a general anaesthetic. Sometimes it's to no avail, alas; some injuries are simply beyond the scope of repair by natural means, but often it's because of poor patient compliance. Folk find it impossible to take time off work after a slipped disc, or unable to discipline themselves to do the rehabilitative exercises.


To find links to topics in bold use the site search function in the navigation bar on your left.

On a personal note...

Having nearly lost my own life whilst undergoing a routine medical procedure (vasectomy) aged 35, I have more than a passing interest in the subject. Add to that the sudden onset of dementia in numerous patients after surgery, and it's my passion to save as many patients from the knife as possible. Good surgeons, I believe, would agree: explore the alternatives first.

A dear friend fell and broke his hip a few months ago; after the surgery that was successful, alas he just wasn't the same person, and still isn't it. Anaesthetics in the young and old in particular are quite dangerous.

Searching for something specific? Say Alzheimers disease and exercise ... type it in here.

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Do you have a tale of woe about the detrimental affect of a general anaesthetic to tell? Or after a visit to the chiropractor? Do tell...

They are really not uncommon, and whilst surgery is often absolutely necessary, it's our belief in chiropractic that alternatives needed to be first sought whenever and where ever possible.

› General anaesthetic

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

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