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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 59 (2017) 10, 632 - 637

Short report

Doctor, will I get my memory back? Electroconvulsive therapy and cognitive side-effects in daily practice

E. Verwijk, J. Obbels, H.P. Spaans, P. Sienaert

background Patients undergoing or about to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are often afraid they will experience negative cognitive side-effects.
aim To answer questions that patients and referring clinicians often ask about cognitive problems that can result from ECT.
method To discuss, on the basis of clinical perception and literature, the cognitive problems resulting from ECT.
results The cognitive problems resulting from ect are threefold: short-term postictal confusion (immediately after the treatment), anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia. A patient affected by anterograde amnesia, is temporarily less able to remember what he or she has experienced over a period of three months after treatment. The brain of a patient with retrograde amnesia is unable to retrieve or remember information or procedures ‘saved’ before the treatment took place. More specifically the patient with retrograde amnesia has three main types of problems: semantic memory problems (relating to facts), episodic memory problems (no longer able to retrieve memories concerning non-personal events), and procedural memory problems (no longer able to operate various devices). It is difficult to predict which patients will experience cognitive problems as a result from ect and to what extent. However, the problems are not intensified by maintenance treatment. Factual and autobiographical memory problems following ect-induced retrograde amnesia seems to have a more permanent character. According to the Dutch guidelines for ECT, cognitive side-effects need to be monitored. If patients are monitored before and after ect, they can be given a more targeted psycho-education and eventually a more targeted training course.
conclusion We conclude that in clinical practice increasing attention is being given to ECT-related cognitive side-effects. Clearly, however, more consideration needs to be given to inter-individual variability. Cognitive monitoring is advisable because the course of the side-effects of ect must be followed and evaluated.

keywords cognition, ect, memory