Surgery and anesthesia: Making it safer at any age

Surgery and anesthesia: Making it safer at any age

(BPT) – Anesthesia today is safer than ever. But try telling that to a nervous parent of a 5-year-old about to have surgery, or to a patient in his 70s in poor health.

Talking to your surgeon and physician anesthesiologist before surgery is an important step in making sure your experience is as safe and comfortable as possible — regardless of your age.  But for children and older adults, that conversation is especially important.

Dr. Daniel J. Cole, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, has tips for patients of all ages during Physician Anesthesiologists Week, which runs Jan. 31 – Feb. 6.

“Most people don’t know that before their surgery they can and should talk with their physician anesthesiologist about their concerns and about their health and health habits,” Dr. Cole says.  “This is especially true for parents of young children who may be worried about how anesthesia could affect the child, and for older adults who might be taking medications that can increase the risk of complications.”

Dr. Cole offers these tips.

For adults: Whatever your age, make sure the physician anesthesiologist knows everything about your health and lifestyle. Talk about:

* Chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma, sleep apnea or diabetes.
* Medications you take, including over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements.
* Your smoking history and alcohol consumption.
* Your options for controlling pain during recovery.

All these factors could influence how anesthesia affects you and how well you recover from your surgery.

For older adults: People who are older are more likely to have medical conditions or take medications that could make surgery and recovery more difficult. Older adults also are more at risk for developing post-operative delirium, a type of confusion that can be unpleasant for the patient and alarming for the family. Be sure to:

* Tell the physician anesthesiologist if you’ve experienced this type of delirium in the past.
* Ask for a recovery room with a window so you’ll know if it’s day or night.
* Have a loved one stay with you during your recovery.
* Have familiar and comforting reminders of home with you: family photos, a calendar or a special keepsake. These can all help you feel less disoriented.
* If you wear glasses or a hearing aid, have them handy so you can use them as soon as it’s OK to do so.

For parents: If your child is having surgery, it’s natural to be worried about the child’s safety, as well as his or her physical and emotional comfort. Physician anesthesiologists are concerned about this as well, and work to continue to make anesthesia as safe as possible. They are partnering with pediatricians, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other specialists and organizations in a program called SmartTots with the goal of continuously studying and improving the safety and effectiveness of anesthesia for children. The good news is that the latest research is reassuring regarding adverse effects of anesthetics on the developing brain.

Parents should:
* Be calm and comforting. Your confidence will be soothing to your child.
* Don’t overpromise. There’s no denying that being in the hospital and having surgery are scary concepts for a child. Tell your child the hospital will be different from home and he or she may feel sick or have some pain, but that the doctors and nurses will be there to help.
* Talk to the physician anesthesiologist about possible alternatives to general anesthesia.

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