Health Beat: PeCAN for brain health

GAINSVILLE, Fla. – About one in six patients over the age of 60 experience confusion or delirium after elective surgery.

When a person becomes delirious, they are more likely to suffer postoperative complications, require longer hospital stays and even die. Now, a new program at the University of Florida is working to predict who is at risk and reduce the threat. 

Debbie Hill loves looking at photos of her late husband James’ adventures. James loved being social, sailing and serenading his loved ones.  

“He was just somebody who lit up a room,” said Hill.

As James got older, he was diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s, which worried Hill when he went under the knife. The first two times he had surgery his anesthesia was modified, but the third time when he went under regular general anesthesia for a broken hip…

“He was delirious. He was confused. Sometimes he hallucinated. It broke my heart to see him not be the person that I knew him to be,” Hill said.

Hill and James’ story is not uncommon.

“Approximately a third of the individuals were having changes in their memory and thinking after having anesthesia and surgery,” said Catherine Price, Ph.D, ABPP, associate professor of clinical and health psychology, anesthesiology co-director, perioperative cognitive anesthesia network at the University of Florida.  

Price runs the Perioperative Cognitive Anesthesia Network, or PeCAN, where she studies how someone’s brain health before surgery can impact their recovery. Before surgery, they run an assessment of tests, such as having patients draw a clock.

“Check attention, working memory, some planning, some prospective memory,” said Price.

If the patient performs poorly, “we can alert the anesthesiology and the surgery team and the geriatric nutritionist so they can optimize the person’s care,” Price explained.

Hill’s husband, James, did not take part in PeCAN, but his story was a big inspiration in helping to launch the program at the University of Florida in 2017. After James died, his brain was donated to science for research.