Previous studies suggest a role of the thalamus in cognitive function, while others implicate it as a central effect site of anesthetics. Yet, its role in postoperative neurocognition in the aging brain remains uncertain. We used presurgical thalamic volume as a functional indicator and determined its association with postoperative delirium (POD).
For this study, 301 older adults (aged ≥65) without dementia and scheduled for surgery were enrolled. Before surgery, participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Thalamus volume was segmented using Freesurfer (Version 5.3.). Participants were screened for POD twice a day until discharge or for a maximum of 7 days. POD was defined as a positive screening on ≥1 of 4 validated instruments: Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS), Nursing Delirium Screening Scale (Nu-DESC), Confusion Assessment Method (CAM), and Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit (CAM-ICU) score. A logistic regression associated thalamus volume with POD with adjustment for age, global brain atrophy, and physical status according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) classification.
In this cohort, 44 participants (14.6%) were diagnosed with POD. Independently of age, global brain atrophy, and physical status score, a higher preoperative thalamus volume was associated with a reduced odds of POD (odds ratio per 1-cm3 increment; 0.73 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.58–0.92]; P = .008).
A larger thalamus volume was associated with reduced odds of POD. Thus, the thalamus marks a region of interest in POD in the aging brain. These findings may help to understand the neuronal basis of POD.