How anaesthesia is practiced, not just in Australian hospitals but perhaps all around the world, may be fundamentally changed based on the results of Australian research being undertaken at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Doctors at the hospital believe that general anaesthesia in older people may significantly increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Much basic data on this issue has been already captured by the hospital’s Department of Anaesthesiology but thanks to funding from the Bupa Health Foundation, a Porter Novelli client, the team at St Vincent’s now has the opportunity to take its research to the next level.
The St Vincent’s project was one of 11 different initiatives recently announced as the Bupa Health Foundation’s 2011 award winners who will share more than $2 million in funding from the charitable body.
The research initiative was featured on ABC TV 7pm news nationally (June 29, 2011) by ABC medical reporter Sophie Scott. In the report, researchers pointed to the way people are usually anaesthetised for surgical procedures may need to change in the future if they are able to prove their hypothesis (and they are confident they will). This means doctors may now need to look to further use a range of alternative techniques, from local anaesthetics to spinal blocks, depending on the type of operation being carried out.
This will also open up ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s Disease, even to the point of introducing preventative medications for the condition in patients who need to undergo general anaesthetic.
However, as a friend of mine noted after seeing the television coverage, “If you think I want to be awake when someone is cutting me open, you can think again – I will take my chances with Alzheimer’s.”
Different approaches to anaesthesia for various procedures have been trialled internationally over many years. While it is clear there may be therapeutic benefits to not putting a patient completely “under” during certain operations, there will need to be a great deal of patient education and reassurance carried out before we see any significant shift in what people will expect and accept when it comes to anaesthesia for a surgical procedure.