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Study: Playing Brain Games Just As Important As Preparing The Body For Surgery

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Could playing games help your mind recover after surgery?

A new study says playing simple games can do just that, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Thursday.

You've heard of rehab to help you recover after surgery and now doctors encourage patients to do "pre-hab" to prepare their bodies before surgery by eating right, exercising and controlling any chronic conditions. It turns out preparing your brain for surgery is just as important by using games.

Sarah Sieling has always enjoyed games like solitaire and sudoku, so when she was asked to participate in a study that required playing brain games leading up to her back surgery, she was happy to help.

"It was to hopefully stop me from having delirium after the surgery," Sieling said.

MORE: Cognitive Computer Games May Ward Off Decline In Brain Function In The Elderly

Post-operative delirium is especially common in older patients and can have serious consequences, including longer hospital stays, slowed recovery and even an increased risk of death. Yet experts don't have many tools to prevent it.


But Dr. Michelle Humeidan at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center believed the brain could be prepared for surgery just as the body can.

"There might be a way to use brain exercise or having an active mind immediately before surgery to offset the risk of delirium post-op," Humeidan said.

Experts call this brain exercise "neurobics," which is designed to create new neural pathways and improve cognition.

FLASHBACK: New Exercises Focus On Mental Health

In a new study, 251 pre-op patients over the age of 60 received a tablet loaded with a brain-training app.

"Our control patients had a higher risk of delirium than the patients that did the intervention," Humeidan said.

And the more they played, the better their results. Those who played a total of five to 10 hours of brain games over those 10 days decreased their risk of delirium by more than half, and the rate of delirium dropped by more than 60% in patients who completed the prescribed 10 hours or more, Gomez reported.

Researchers said that doing crosswords, or any mind-challenging activity should reap the same benefits as the brain games.

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