Anesthesia and analgesia

Serum anticholinergic activity and postoperative cognitive dysfunction in elderly patients.

PMID 25089730


Cerebral cholinergic transmission plays a key role in cognitive function, and anticholinergic drugs administered during the perioperative phase are a hypothetical cause of postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD). We hypothesized that a perioperative increase in serum anticholinergic activity (SAA) is associated with POCD in elderly patients. Seventy-nine patients aged >65 years undergoing elective major surgery under standardized general anesthesia (thiopental, sevoflurane, fentanyl, and atracurium) were investigated. Cognitive functions were assessed preoperatively and 7 days postoperatively using the extended version of the CERAD-Neuropsychological Assessment Battery. POCD was defined as a postoperative decline >1 z-score in at least 2 test variables. SAA was measured preoperatively and 7 days postoperatively at the time of cognitive testing. Hodges-Lehmann median differences and their 95% confidence intervals were calculated for between-group comparisons. Of the patients who completed the study, 46% developed POCD. Patients with POCD were slightly older and less educated than patients without POCD. There were no relevant differences between patients with and without POCD regarding gender, demographically corrected baseline cognitive functions, and duration of anesthesia. There were no large differences between patients with and without POCD regarding SAA preoperatively (pmol/mL, median [interquartile range]/median difference [95% CI], P; 1.14 [0.72, 2.37] vs 1.13 [0.68, 1.68]/0.12 [-0.31, 0.57], P = 0.56), SAA 7 days postoperatively (1.32 [0.68, 2.59] vs 0.97 [0.65, 1.83]/0.25 [-0.26, 0.81], P = 0.37), or changes in SAA (0.08 [-0.50, 0.70] vs -0.02 [-0.53, 0.41]/0.1 [-0.31, 0.52], P = 0.62). There was no significant relationship between changes in SAA and changes in cognitive function (Spearman rank correlation coefficient preoperatively of 0.03 [95% CI, -0.21, 0.26] and postoperatively of -0.002 [95% CI, -0.24, 0.23]). In this panel of patients with low baseline SAA and clinically insignificant perioperative anticholinergic burden, although a relationship cannot be excluded in some patients, our analysis suggests that POCD is probably not a substantial consequence of anticholinergic medications administered perioperatively but rather due to other mechanisms.