Study: Playing Brain Games Before Surgery Helps Improve Recovery

Practicing “neurobics” preps the brain for surgery and prevents postoperative delirium

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – In recent years, doctors have embraced “pre-habilitation” for patients leading up to surgery, which may include exercise, a healthy diet and controlling any chronic conditions. However, none of these interventions address postoperative delirium, a complication especially common in older patients that causes mental confusion leading to longer hospital stays, slower recoveries and even an increased risk of death. Now, a new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds the brain can be prepared for surgery just as the body can by keeping the mind active and challenged. 

Experts call this “neurobics”: brain exercises designed to create new neural pathways and increase cognition. To study the effects of neurobics on delirium prevention, researchers gave 251 pre-surgical patients over the age of 60 a tablet loaded with a brain-game app and asked them to play an hour of games each day for  10 days leading up to a major procedure requiring general anesthesia.

“Not all patients played the games as much as we asked, but those who played any at all saw some benefit,” said Dr. Michelle Humeidan, an anesthesiologist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study. “Patients who practiced neurobics were 40% less likely to experience postoperative delirium than those who did not, and the results improved the more hours they played.”

Those who played five to 10 hours cut their risk by more than half, and those who played the prescribed 10 hours or more had a 61 percent reduction in delirium rates compared to the control group. 

“Using the app was ideal for this study because we could easily track how long and how often patients were playing,” Humeidan said. “But things like reading the newspaper, doing crossword puzzles or anything you enjoy to challenge your mind for an hour each day would likely help prevent delirium and improve your mental fitness.”

Those who didn’t play brain games before surgery were also more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit during their postoperative hospital stay. Future research will explore exactly how brain games impact mechanisms in the brain and how much patients should practice neurobics to reap the full benefits.

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A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds that playing brain games prepares the mind for surgery and prevents postoperative delirium, a serious and common complication among older patients.

Sarah Sieling is back to gardening after successful spinal fusion surgery. She participated in a study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center that used tablet-based brain games to prevent postoperative delirium, a serious and common complication in older patients.

Dr. Michelle Humeidan led a study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center that found playing brain games in the days before surgery helps prevent postoperative delirium, a common complication that leads to longer hospital stays, slower recoveries and an increased risk of death.

A new study by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds keeping the mind active and challenged leading up to a major surgery can help prevent postoperative delirium, a serious complication that is especially common among older patients.

Postoperative delirium is a common complication after major surgery that can slow recovery and even increase the risk of death. But a new study by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds preparing the mind for surgery by playing brain games greatly reduces the risk of delirium.



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