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A longitudinal study of cognitive function after coronary artery bypass surgery examined 107 participants using 11 tests, preoperatively and at 6 days, 8 weeks, and 5 years after surgery. The overall neuropsychological (NP) change score declined at 6 days, showed some recovery at 8 weeks, and declined again at 5 years. The number of microemboli recorded during surgery, postoperative short-term cognitive change, and degree of recovery at 8 weeks were identified as predictors of change in NP score to 5 years. This suggests that even over a 5-year period, operative damage is detectable. Patients' vulnerability to short-term deterioration and resilience or ability to recover over a few weeks from operative cerebral insult are important processes of unknown mechanisms.