Postoperative delirium is associated with grey matter brain volume loss.


Delirium is associated with long-term cognitive dysfunction and with increased brain atrophy. However, it is unclear whether these problems result from or predisposes to delirium. We aimed to investigate preoperative to postoperative brain changes, as well as the role of delirium in these changes over time. We investigated the effects of surgery and postoperative delirium with brain MRIs made before and 3 months after major elective surgery in 299 elderly patients, and an MRI with a 3 months follow-up MRI in 48 non-surgical control participants. To study the effects of surgery and delirium, we compared brain volumes, white matter hyperintensities and brain infarcts between baseline and follow-up MRIs, using multiple regression analyses adjusting for possible confounders. Within the patients group, 37 persons (12%) developed postoperative delirium. Surgical patients showed a greater decrease in grey matter volume than non-surgical control participants [linear regression: B (95% confidence interval) = -0.65% of intracranial volume (-1.01 to -0.29, P < 0.005)]. Within the surgery group, delirium was associated with a greater decrease in grey matter volume [B (95% confidence interval): -0.44% of intracranial volume (-0.82 to -0.06, P = 0.02)]. Furthermore, within the patients, delirium was associated with a non-significantly increased risk of a new postoperative brain infarct [logistic regression: odds ratio (95% confidence interval): 2.8 (0.7-11.1), P = 0.14]. Our study was the first to investigate the association between delirium and preoperative to postoperative brain volume changes, suggesting that delirium is associated with increased progression of grey matter volume loss.