MIAMI (CBSMiami) – New research shows playing brain games before surgery may lower the chances of a common but serious post-surgery complication for older adults.

Sarah Sieling is grateful she can do the activities she enjoys.

Two-and-a-half years ago she needed spinal fusion surgery.

“One of my vertebrae would tip and it was pinching a nerve. So, the only time I was without pain was when I was sitting. Recovery was really pretty good,” she said.

As a 71-year-old surgery patient, she was at risk for developing postoperative delirium.

She took part in a study at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center that looked at whether playing brain games on a tablet could prevent the complications which can cause confusion.

Older patients who have some cognitive deficits before surgery, even just mild, have a significantly higher risk for postoperative delirium.

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Dr. Michelle Humeidan is the lead author of the study.

“What the study found was that if you do the brain exercise before surgery, it does lower your risk of having postoperative delirium,” Dr. Humeidan said. “We did have some evidence come out of the data that show that the more brain exercise you do, the better your risk reduction is.”

The exercises focus on memory, speed, attention, and problem solving.

Patients who played five to 10 hours in the days leading up to surgery cut their risk of delirium after surgery by more than half.

“This being such a common complication, which is associated with lots of other problems after surgery, including even risk of death, we wanted to really try to find an intervention that would be accessible to patients and have a good impact,” said Dr. Humeidan.

Sieling said she enjoyed the games.

“They were a lot of fun. So, in fact, I kind of missed them afterwards,” Sieling said.

Sieling’s glad she took part in the study.

“I didn’t have any problems after the surgery at all. My mind was very clear,” she said.

Sieling added she would recommend anything that could make recovering from surgery easier.

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