The Safety of ECT in Geriatric Psychiatry

William J. Burke, Charles F. Zorumski, Richard D. Wetzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

61 Scopus citations


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is often described as an effective and safe treatment of depression in the elderly. However, we have previously reported that there may be increased morbidity in this population, particularly in the very old. This paper extends this work to a second, larger sample of 136 subjects of whom 40 are over 60 years of age. We have again found that while ECT is efficacious, complications increase with age (r = .26; P ≤ .003), occurring in 35% of the elderly as opposed to 18% of the younger group. This increased rate of complications appears to be accounted for by problems in the very old; six of eight subjects over 75 years of age had some untoward event. Common complications in the elderly included severe confusion, falls, and cardiorespiratory problems. Complications in the whole sample were related to health status (r = .22; P ≤ .008) which in turn correlated with age (r = .50; P ≤ .0001). Those taking a greater total number of medications and a greater number of cardiovascular medications had significantly more complications during ECT. There was no relationship between either complications and outcome or complications and the number or laterality of treatments. These findings confirm the effectiveness of ECT in the elderly but suggest there may be unappreciated risks of ECT in this population. At particular risk are the very old, those in poor general health, and those taking multiple medications, particularly cardiovascular agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-521
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1987
Externally publishedYes

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