Alzheimer’s and Dementia and Anesthesia –What causes the severe Confusion


Alzheimer’s Dementia and Anesthesia

When my Mom was hospitalized for tests due to shortness of breath and other symptoms of pneumonia, she was totally confused the entire time she was in the hospital.

She had been to this same hospital many times for tests and such, but had never needed an overnight stay. This time she was hospitalized for a week and I was shocked at how confused she eventually became by the time we took her home.

Mom thought she was still at my house–where she’d lived for more than a year. So she told everyone who who came to visit at the hospital that ‘it was a good thing my house was so large, because my friends had partied all night long making a terrible raucous and keeping her awake for long hours.’

During waking hours we were on the verge of tying her to the bed. She was determined to get up and cook food for all my friends and house guests who kept walking around hungry. She could hardly believe I was such a poor hostess to all these people coming in and out of her room.

Mom had not received any type of anesthesia, so I was puzzled by her much worsened state of confusion. I’d known other Alzheimer’s patients who’d had anesthesia administered and then appeared to regress afterward. Frankly, I always thought it was some side-effect of the medication on an already damaged brain. In fact, I still believe that to be the case in some instances. But, from what I’ve read–much research on this theory has not proven it to be true.

And, after Mom’s behavior (without anesthesia) I must admit, I’ve been double-guessing a few of my own theories on the subject. Nevertheless, my Mom’s behavior worsened substantially after that hospitalization, though she did return to her previous stage when we finally got home. And, of course, any memory of the hospital evaporated as soon as Mom was back in her own room.

Besides the accumulation of tangles and plaques, (clumps of protein called beta-amyloid, which begin accumulating in the front of the brain and gradually spread to other parts) other theories about Alzheimer’s damage to the brain include inflammation, mini strokes, free radicals and glucose deficit, and more. We aren’t even sure when Alzheimer’s actually starts in the brain. Right now, it is believed that it may start many years before we actually see symptoms.

So today, there’s no clear answer about what causes the severe confusion of a Hospital Stay or Anesthesia on the Alzheimer’s or Dementia Patient. But it does happen, as all of us who’ve had a loved one suffer through it can verify. I wonder, now, if it isn’t actually an accumulation of stimuli, too many different rooms, people, things, to shock the brain of a person who’s memory is already pressed to remember their own small world.

The only thing that appears to help is to keep the patient calm and the environment as quiet and unaffected as possible. No easy task, I know, in a hospital.

Some of our loved ones enjoy music, and that makes it easier to calm them. A few minutes of gentle music can often calm the angriest mood — There are many soft music CD’s that are perfect to calm their nerves. Plus, they may have their own favorite music that works just as well. Don’t forget the salving calm of Music!

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If they are accustom to wearing a headset–all the better. They can shut out a noisy room and enjoy a few minutes of peace and calm–


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  1. says

    Even without anesthesia, just being in the hospital will cause increases in confusion because of sensory overload combined with sensory deprivation.
    Overload occurs when our LO are exposed to stimuli not normally in their usual environment. This includes lights 24 hours a day, strangers coming and going in their room, invasive procedures and pain they don’t understand (especially taking blood and IVs) The noise and confusion of tests like Xrays, MRIs, etc., strange food, perhaps not being able to move around freely, etc.
    Sensory deprivation occurs when the person who wears hearing aids and glasses does not get to do so in the hospital, routines are disrupted, clothing is removed etc.
    On top of all of this, illness and pain may add to the confusion.
    The very best solution to this problem is to have a LO stay with the hospitalized person at all times. Unfortunately, not everyone can do this.
    Stephanie Zeman, MSN RN

  2. Sue James says

    My mum I’s in hospital now she has broken her hip , she has become non compliant won’t eat and her language is terrible! I work with older people who have dementia and I no hospitalisation causes them become more confused but my mum has changed so dramatically. I hate dementia I want my mum back I’m so upset at present feel like I need to be stronger fir my kids and dad but keep

    • ~ Sandy says

      Hello Sue,
      Oh I know how you feel. My mom went into the hospital for a week and I hardly knew her. Every behavior was off and she forgot even more of what she did remember. But–once she was home again, she recovered a lot. There’s just something about being confined like that when they are already in a precarious state of mind.

      I think your mom will be much better when she comes home again, or is released from the hospital.

      You are probably needing some real support right now, too. If you have an account with Facebook, you might enjoy the Alzheimer’s group there. Memory People. It’s a group formed of people who have Alzheimer’s, are related to them or friends and caregivers. A nice place to visit for answers, advice and friendly camaraderie. If you’re on Facebook, simply search “Memory People.”

      I think you’ll enjoy sharing and learning with others in the “same boat.” It often helps to know how someone else handled a certain situation.


  3. ~ Sandy says

    I certainly understand. I hear that all the time. Some who had experiences similar to mine, a slight change in memory loss which recovers after the medical recovery takes place.

    But I do hear from many that after anesthesia they see major changes that never go away from their loved one with Alzheimer’s.

    Hopefully, these signs and symptoms are being investigated some where.


  4. says

    My dad had surgery under anethesia a few years ago, and the day he came home he was a changed person forever…..not likely that anesthesia causes Alzheimer’s, but a search through Google or an Alzheimer’s forum seem to indicate that it is some sort of catalyst.

  5. says

    This is very common whether the person has had anesthesia, surgery, is adversely affected by medication or if the person is simply ill. A large percentage of the hospital consultations received by neurologists for “altered mental status” are for people exactly like your mother, who go to the hospital, have some cognitive issues already, and get much worse upon admission. In your mom’s case, while the change of environment and constant stimulus in the hospital don’t help, the presence of illness affects the entire body, including the brain. If she had other medical conditions (diabetes, heart condition, etc.) they would probably be adversely affected also. Most patients either return to their baseline or at least improve as they recover. Your idea of music is really great. Particularly helpful is familiar music (especially those songs known from childhood or familiar religious music if that applies).

    • ~ Sandy says

      That’s good to know, Ellen. I had heard others talk of the changes after anesthesia, but was really surprised by Mom’s decline for only an hospitalization. Yes, Mom did have other health issues so I’m sure they had an impact on her overall well-being. She did do better emotionally, when she left the hospital. Unfortunately, that’s when they found she had another terminal illness which eventually caused her death. Thanks so much for your input! Hope to see you visit again!

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