Objective: Although electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is generally considered effective against depression, it remains controversial because of its association with retrograde memory loss. Here, we assessed memory after ECT in circumstances most likely to yield strong retrograde amnesia. Method: A cohort of patients undergoing ECT for major depression was tested before and after ECT, and again at 3-months follow-up. Included were 21 patients scheduled to undergo bilateral ECT for severe major depression and 135 controls matched for gender, age, education, and media consumption. Two memory tests were used: a verbal learning test to assess anterograde memory function, and a remote memory test that assessed memory for news during the course of one year. Results: Before ECT the patients' scores were lower than those of controls. They were lower again after treatment, suggesting retrograde amnesia. At follow-up, however, memory for events before treatment had returned to the pre-ECT level. Memory for events in the months after treatment was as good as that of controls. Limitations: The sample size in this study was not large. Moreover, memory impairment did not correlate with level of depression, which may be due to restriction of range. Conclusions: Our results are consistent with the possibility that ECT as currently practiced does not cause significant lasting retrograde amnesia, but that amnesia is mostly temporary and related to the period of impairment immediately following ECT.
- Electroconvulsive therapy