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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an effective treatment for depression but the extent and persistence of cognitive side-effects remain uncertain. It has been reported that there is little evidence that impairments last longer than up to 15 days post-ECT. However, relatively few studies have followed patients for even as long as 1 month post-ECT. Here we report results from a brief cognitive battery given prior to ECT and repeated five times up to 6 months post-ECT.
In a retrospective case-note study of routinely collected clinical data 126 patients treated with ECT completed two neuropsychological tests [Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) spatial recognition memory (SRM) and Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE)] and two subjective reports of memory function, prior to ECT. Patients were reassessed following ECT and at 1, 3 and 6 months post-ECT although not all patients completed all assessments.
Performance relative to pre-ECT baseline was significantly poorer at each post-ECT assessment up to 3 months post-ECT using the CANTAB SRM, but was improved at 6 months. Conversely, MMSE score showed improvements relative to baseline from 1 month post-ECT. Mood and subjective memory scores improved following ECT and were correlated with one another, but not with either neuropsychological measure.
The CANTAB SRM task revealed reversible cognitive deficiencies relative to a pre-ECT baseline for at least 3 months following ECT, while MMSE score and patients' subjective reports showed only improvement. Visuospatial memory scores eventually exceeded baseline 6 months post-ECT.
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