Cognitive Side Effects of Brief Pulse Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Review

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Cognitive impairment remains a common side effect of brief pulse electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and its minimization has been the motivation for many different treatment modifications over the decades. The level of impairment has been shown to vary according to different technical parameters of ECT including, but not limited to, electrode placement, dosage, and waveform, as well as patient factors, such as age and premorbid intellect. Most past research has focused the assessment on memory impairments associated with ECT. Specifically, ECT can result in both anterograde and retrograde memory impairments. However, the study of non-memory cognitive functions after ECT has been relatively neglected. Furthermore, although considerable recovery has been observed within weeks of treatment completion, data are lacking in the longer term. The following article presents an overview of what is currently known about the pattern and recovery of cognitive side effects of ECT. Controversies within the literature and areas requiring further research are highlighted.

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