MMSE Changes During and After ECT in Late-Life Depression: A Prospective Study

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

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There is ongoing concern about the impact of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on cognition in patients with late-life depression (LLD), especially in patients for whom pretreatment Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) scores are low. Our aim was to examine the evolution of cognitive effects of ECT, using the MMSE in a large group of patients with LLD.


One hundred nine patients aged 55 years and older with unipolar depression, referred for ECT, were included in our study. The MMSE was assessed before, during, immediately after, and 6 months after ECT.


MMSE scores improved significantly during the course of ECT and remained stable during the 6-month period after ending ECT for the total group. In the group of patients with a low MMSE score (<24) at baseline, the MMSE score improved significantly during ECT, whereas in the group of patients with a normal MMSE score (≥24) at baseline, the score did not change significantly during ECT. In both groups, MMSE scores still increased slightly after ECT was discontinued.


ECT does not cause deleterious cognitive effects, as measured with the MMSE, during and for 6 months after the ECT course in patients with LLD. In the event of a baseline cognitive impairment, MMSE scores tend to improve significantly during and for 6 months after the ECT course. The presence of pretreatment cognitive impairment should not lead clinicians to withhold ECT in older patients with severe depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)934-944
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • ECT
  • cognition
  • late-life depression

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