Research Article| Volume 270, P327-334, February 2022

Major Surgery and Long Term Cognitive Outcomes: The Effect of Postoperative Delirium on Dementia in the Year Following Discharge

Published:October 29, 2021DOI:



      Delirium is among the most common complications following major surgery. Delirium following medical illness is associated with the development of chronic cognitive decline. The objective of this study was to determine the association of postoperative delirium with dementia in the year following surgery.

      Materials and methods

      This was a retrospective cohort study in a large health network (January 2013 to December 2019). All patients over age 50 undergoing surgery requiring an inpatient stay were included. Our main exposure was an episode of delirium. The primary outcome was a new dementia diagnosis in the 1 y following discharge. Secondary outcomes included hospital length of stay, non-home discharge destination, mortality and rehospitalizations in 1 y.


      There were 39,665 patients included, with a median age of 66. There were 4156 of 39,665 emergencies (10.5%). Specialties were general surgery (12,285/39,665, 31%) and orthopedics (11,503/39,665, 29%). There were 3327 (8.4%) patients with delirium. Delirious patients were older and were more likely to have comorbid conditions and undergone complex procedures. There were 1353 of 39,665 (3.5%) patients who developed dementia in the year following their surgery; 4930 of 39,665 (12.4%) who died; and 8200 of 39,665 (20.7%) who were readmitted. Delirium was associated with a new dementia diagnosis after adjusting for baseline characteristics (Odds ratio [OR] 13.9; 95% CI, 12.2-15.7). Similarly, delirium was also associated with 1 y mortality (OR 3.1; 95% CI 2.9-3.4) and readmission (OR 1.9, 95% CI 1.7-2.0).


      Postoperative delirium is the strongest factor associated with development of dementia in the year following a major operation. Strategies to prevent, identify, and treat delirium in the postoperative setting may improve long-term cognitive recovery.


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