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Cognitive side-effects of electroconvulsive therapy: what are they, how to monitor them and what to tell patients

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posted on 2020-05-01, 00:00 authored by Richard J Porter, Bernhard T Baune, Grace Morris, Amber Hamilton, Darryl Bassett, Philip Boyce, Malcolm J Hopwood, Roger Mulder, Gordon Parker, Ajeet SinghAjeet Singh, Tim Outhred, Pritha Das, Gin S Malhi
Background Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is recommended in treatment guidelines as an efficacious therapy for treatment-resistant depression. However, it has been associated with loss of autobiographical memory and short-term reduction in new learning. Aims To provide clinically useful guidelines to aid clinicians in informing patients regarding the cognitive side-effects of ECT and in monitoring these during a course of ECT, using complex data. Method A Committee of clinical and academic experts from Australia and New Zealand met to the discuss the key issues pertaining to ECT and cognitive side-effects. Evidence regarding cognitive side-effects was reviewed, as was the limited evidence regarding how to monitor them. Both issues were supplemented by the clinical experience of the authors. Results Meta-analyses suggest that new learning is impaired immediately following ECT but that group mean scores return at least to baseline by 14 days after ECT. Other cognitive functions are generally unaffected. However, the finding of a mean score that is not reduced from baseline cannot be taken to indicate that impairment, particularly of new learning, cannot occur in individuals, particularly those who are at greater risk. Therefore, monitoring is still important. Evidence suggests that ECT does cause deficits in autobiographical memory. The evidence for schedules of testing to monitor cognitive side-effects is currently limited. We therefore make practical recommendations based on clinical experience. Conclusions Despite modern ECT techniques, cognitive side-effects remain an important issue, although their nature and degree remains to be clarified fully. In these circumstances it is useful for clinicians to have guidance regarding what to tell patients and how to monitor these side-effects clinically.



BJPsych open





Article number



1 - 7


Cambridge University Press


Cambridge, Eng.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal