Postoperative delirium is a common complication in elderly patients undergoing anesthesia. Even though it is increasingly recognized as an important health issue, the early detection of patients at risk for postoperative delirium remains a challenge. This study aims to identify predictors of postoperative delirium by analyzing frontal electroencephalogram at propofol-induced loss of consciousness.


This prospective, observational single-center study included patients older than 70 yr undergoing general anesthesia for a planned surgery. Frontal electroencephalogram was recorded on the day before surgery (baseline) and during anesthesia induction (1, 2, and 15 min after loss of consciousness). Postoperative patients were screened for postoperative delirium twice daily for 5 days. Spectral analysis was performed using the multitaper method. The electroencephalogram spectrum was decomposed in periodic and aperiodic (correlates to asynchronous spectrum wide activity) components. The aperiodic component is characterized by its offset (y intercept) and exponent (the slope of the curve). Computed electroencephalogram parameters were compared between patients who developed postoperative delirium and those who did not. Significant electroencephalogram parameters were included in a binary logistic regression analysis to predict vulnerability for postoperative delirium.


Of 151 patients, 50 (33%) developed postoperative delirium. At 1 min after loss of consciousness, postoperative delirium patients demonstrated decreased alpha (postoperative delirium: 0.3 μV2 [0.21 to 0.71], no postoperative delirium: 0.55 μV2 [0.36 to 0.74]; P = 0.019] and beta band power [postoperative delirium: 0.27 μV2 [0.12 to 0.38], no postoperative delirium: 0.38 μV2 [0.25 to 0.48]; P = 0.003) and lower spectral edge frequency (postoperative delirium: 10.45 Hz [5.65 to 15.04], no postoperative delirium: 14.56 Hz [9.51 to 16.65]; P = 0.01). At 15 min after loss of consciousness, postoperative delirium patients displayed a decreased aperiodic offset (postoperative delirium: 0.42 μV2 (0.11 to 0.69), no postoperative delirium: 0.62 μV2 [0.37 to 0.79]; P = 0.004). The logistic regression model predicting postoperative delirium vulnerability demonstrated an area under the curve of 0.73 (0.69 to 0.75).


The findings suggest that electroencephalogram markers obtained during loss of consciousness at anesthesia induction may serve as electroencephalogram-based biomarkers to identify at an early time patients at risk of developing postoperative delirium.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Postoperative delirium arises from the acute interactions of anesthesia and surgery with a pre-existing vulnerable brain
  • Characteristic electroencephalogram patterns during maintenance and emergence from general anesthesia are associated with the risk of postoperative delirium
  • It is unknown whether electroencephalogram patterns seen before anesthesia correlate with a vulnerable brain associated with postoperative delirium
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • Electroencephalogram responses, seen before and during induction of anesthesia, might be useful biomarkers of a vulnerable brain phenotype
  • At induction of anesthesia, electroencephalogram signatures indicative of a vulnerable brain show reduced alpha and beta waveband peak power and lower spectral edge frequency