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The Use of Electroconvulsive Therapy in the Elderly


  • Electroconvulsive therapy, also called ECT, is a type of shock therapy that may be used in the elderly. An elderly person may be defined as someone who is 60 years of age or older. ECT is a treatment where a small electric shock is sent to your brain to make a seizure (convulsion). The seizure may increase blood flow and release chemicals in your brain. These effects may make the cells of your brain work better. ECT is used to treat certain conditions that do not get better after medicines or other therapies have been tried. It is also used when other treatments cannot be given. ECT may also be used when symptoms need to be treated quickly, such as not wanting to eat or drink.
  • ECT in the elderly is mainly used to treat depression (a very deep sadness). This includes depression with insomnia (trouble sleeping), weight changes, or thoughts of hurting or killing yourself (suicide) or others. The depression may be severe (very bad), last a very long time, or go away and then come back again. ECT may also be used to treat movement disorders, such as Parkinson Disease, or long-lasting pain. Mental disorders that affect the way a person thinks, acts, or talks with others may also be treated with ECT. ECT may be used with other treatments, such as medicines or therapy.
  • With ECT, a device produces an electric current that travels through two electrodes. The electrodes may be placed on each side of your head or with one on the crown (top) of your head. When and how often you get ECT, and the strength of the electric current depend on your condition. You may need ECT treatments several times a week, or less often. You may need fewer than 12 treatments, or treatments may continue for years. Your caregiver will tell you how many treatments are best for you, and when you should have them done. Over time, ECT may help you feel happier or calmer, or decrease other symptoms such as shaking or pain.



  • Keep a current list of your medicines: Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists. Use vitamins, herbs, or food supplements only as directed.
  • Take your medicine as directed: Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him about any medicine allergies, and if you want to quit taking or change your medicine.
  • Antidepressants: You may be given this medicine to help decrease or stop symptoms of depression.

Follow-up visit information:

Keep all appointments. These include regular check-ups and ECT treatments. Ask your caregiver if you need other therapies, such as psychotherapy. Write down any questions you may have. This way you will remember to ask these questions during your next visit.

Memory loss and headaches:

  • Having ECT may cause memory loss and confusion (trouble thinking clearly) in the elderly. Your confusion may go away in time, such as one hour or more after your treatment. You may lose your memory for 1 to 3 weeks, and some memories may be lost forever.
  • You may also get a headache after an ECT treatment. These headaches usually only last a short time. If you have a headache after ECT, ask your caregiver for medicine to make it go away. If more ECT treatments are planned for you, ask your caregiver to give you medicine before the treatments to help prevent headaches.
  • There is a greater chance of falling down after having ECT treatments. Ask someone to help you when you stand up or walk. Ask your caregiver for more information on how to prevent falls.


  • You have severe (very bad) pain in your back or neck.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition, treatment, or medicine.


  • You have a fever.
  • You have a headache that is very bad and does not get better, even after using medicine to treat it.
  • You have a stiff neck or have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have feelings of guilt or hopelessness, or thoughts of hurting or killing yourself or others.
  • You have trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.