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Electroconvulsive Therapy: The Cognitive Effects

ECTECT: Effective and Safe

The reason that more patients do not receive help for their depression with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): concern about the cognitive effects.[1] However, according to Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry Professor Charles Kelner, M.D., the concerns are exaggerated.1 In fact, most patients experience minor cognitive impairment, which is mostly temporary.1 Still, for many, this is not an option. However, as ECT is such an effective treatment that should not be a last resort, educational materials are looking to change the public’s view on this topic.

An ECT Study’s Results

Semkovska and McLoughlin conducted an analysis of 84 studies assessing cognition in ECT patients.1 They concluded that cognitive abnormalities associated with the procedure are limited to the first three days post-treatment.1 Some patients may experience beyond-normal cognitive effects, but this is not a typical occurrence.1

Treating Depression with ECT

Major depressive disorder (MDD), in severe forms, is a life-threatening illness, with the suicide risk being in the 15% range.1 Medicine doesn’t always help people with MDD; therefore, ECT is provided as an outpatient treatment performed under general anesthesia.1 In fact, it is the safest procedure completed under general anesthesia, with a mortality rate of 1 in 10,000.1 A recent study actually reported zero deaths in 73,440 treatments.1 ECT works faster and more efficient than medicine, with response rates in the 60% to 80% range.1 Strides are currently being made to make this procedure more tolerable.1



[1] Kellner, C. (2013, March 12). The Cognitive Effects of ECT: Tolerability Versus Safety. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/electroconvulsive-therapy/content/article/10168/2132487 ECT

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