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2022 Alzheimer's Association Clinician Scientist Fellowship (AACSF)

Visual Attention and Postoperative Delirium

Are older adults with reduced attention at higher risk for delirium after surgery?

Benjamin Chapin, M.D.
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL - United States


Older adults are more likely to undergo various surgeries and preparation for the surgeries, often involves monitoring for certain health risks. One such risk is delirium, or the temporary disruption of mental abilities resulting in confusion and decreased awareness of one’s environment. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI, a state of subtle memory loss that may precede Alzheimer’s) or early-stage dementia often have an especially high risk of delirium after surgery (postoperative delirium). Although the reasons for this risk are not entirely clear, studies suggest that reduced visual attention (or the ability to focus and sustain attention on something in the environment) may be linked to an increased risk for delirium after surgery. 

Research Plan

Dr. Benjamin Chapin and colleagues will conduct a study of visual attention and postoperative delirium in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. They will recruit about 160 cognitively impaired older adults who have elective orthopedic (knee or hip) surgery. Before undergoing surgery, individuals will take neurological tests to measure their ability to orient themselves in a new environment, to shift attention from one object to another, and to perform other visual attention tasks with speed and accuracy. They will then be monitored after surgery for symptoms related to delirium and for other postoperative complications, such as an extended stay in the hospital. Dr. Chapin and colleagues will use results from these neurological tests to assess how different aspects of visual attention loss may predict postoperative delirium or other negative outcomes after surgery.        


If successful, this study could shed new light on the mechanisms behind postoperative delirium in older adults with cognitive impairment. They could also lead to new methods for diagnosing delirium risk before surgery and to new treatments for moderating that risk.

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