Cognitive training to prevent cognitive impairment after heart surgery in older adults

Years funded:

Older adults are increasingly having surgeries on their heart: 10,000 Australians aged 65 years and over had heart surgery in the last financial year. 

These operations improve how the heart functions however they often result in problems with thinking skills such as cognitive impairments, including dementia. This effect is especially problematic as older adults undergoing heart operations are usually have a higher risk for late life cognitive impairments such as dementia, given their typical long histories of heart disease and related problems (such as obesity and high blood pressure). 

We need to develop an effective intervention to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment after heart surgeries in older adults. Pharmacological and procedural interventions during surgery have predominantly found to be ineffective at reducing cognitive impairment post cardiovascular surgery, or, too difficult to implement. 

This study will assess whether computerised cognitive training, either before or after Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (a major heart surgery), can improve cognitive performance up to three months post-surgery in older adults. 

Cognitive training has been shown to improve thinking skills in older adults with and without dementia, along with heart patients, therefore there is good evidence for thinking this intervention will be effective. 

As more older Australians undergo heart surgery, it is critical to develop evidence-based interventions to optimise cognitive function and reduce dementia risk. 

This project is innovative: it is the first to intervene prior to heart surgery, to reduce the risk of cognitive decline after the surgery. 

This project is clinically significant: cognitive complaints are common post-heart surgery in older adults, despite heart function being improved, which reduces quality of life for the patient and their carer. If shown to be effective, cognitive training could be translated to clinical practice quickly and cost effectively.

Researcher Profile

Dr Hannah Keage

Institute: University of South Australia
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