Long-term neurocognitive functioning after electroconvulsive therapy in patients with late-life depression

J. Obbels, E. Verwijk, K. Vansteelandt, A. Dols, F. Bouckaert, S. Schouws, M. Vandenbulcke, L. Emsell, M. Stek, P. Sienaert

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Objective: There is ongoing concern about the possible negative impact of ECT on neurocognitive functioning in older patients. In this study, we aimed to characterize the long-term cognitive effects of ECT in patients with late-life depression, using an extensive neuropsychological battery. Methods: A total of 110 patients aged 55 years and older with unipolar depression, referred for ECT were included. The neuropsychological test battery was assessed prior to ECT and 6 months after the last ECT session. Results: There were no statistically significant group-level changes from baseline to 6 months post-ECT in any of the neuropsychological measurements. Individual differences in cognitive performance were detected using the Reliable Change Index. Conclusion: Patients with late-life depression do not show deleterious cognitive effects 6 months following an ECT index course, although there are considerable differences at an individual level. Clinicians should not hesitate to prescribe ECT in older patients, as most of these patients will tolerate the treatment course and a small group will even experience a cognitive enhancement. However, clinicians should be aware that a small group of patients can experience cognitive side-effects. Further study is needed to predict which patients have a higher risk of developing cognitive side-effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-231
Number of pages9
JournalActa psychiatrica Scandinavica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • ECT
  • cognitive side-effects
  • depression
  • individual differences
  • late-life depression

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