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Neuropsychol Rev. 2002 Mar;12(1):1-14.

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction versus complaints: a discrepancy in long-term findings.

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Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, University Hospital Maastricht, The Netherlands.


This review describes the discrepancy in findings between postoperative cognitive performance and postoperative cognitive complaints long time after an operation under general anesthesia. Shortly (from 6 hr to 1 week) after an operation a decline in cognitive performance is reported in most studies. However, long time (from 3 weeks to 1-2 years) after an operation this is rarely found although some patients are still reporting cognitive complaints. In general this kind of research is suffering from severe methodological problems (use of insensitive tests, lack of control groups, lack of parallel tests, different definitions of cognitive decline). However, these problems cannot totally explain the discrepancy in findings in the long term. Thus, there are patients who have persistent cognitive complaints long time after an operation, that cannot be measured with cognitive tests. More psychological factors such as fixation on short-term cognitive dysfunction, mood, coping style, and personality are possible explanations for these cognitive complaints in the long term. As a consequence, these factors should be a topic in future research elucidating the persistence of these cognitive complaints long time after an operation under general anesthesia.

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