Accuracy of Children's Perioperative Memories

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Children's declarative memories of medical procedures can influence their responses to subsequent events. No previous study has examined the accuracy of children's declarative memories after surgery. We tested the memory of 34 anesthesia-naïve five- to nine-year-old children undergoing ambulatory surgery for accuracy of contextual details, pain, and fear two weeks postoperatively. Parents were not present during induction, and we did not use sedative premedication. Children had a mean contextual recall accuracy of 64.5%. Most children (60.6%) remembered a prompt that was given one minute after receiving nitrous oxide. Children's memories of pain and fear were similar to their reported pain and fear on the day of surgery. Of 29 children, 6 (20.7%) exaggerated their memory of fear, and 8 of 22 children (36.4%) exaggerated their memory of pain. Although a small proportion of children had exaggerated memories, there was no evidence of consistent bias in their memory of fear or pain.

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