Depressive disorder is a common mental disorder in old age, with serious health consequences such as increased morbidity, disability, and mortality. The frailty of elderly may seriously hamper the efficacy and safety of pharmacotherapy in depressed elderly. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in depressed elderly therefore may be an alternative to treatment with antidepressants.
To assess the efficacy and safety of ECT (compared to simulated ECT or antidepressants) in depressed elderly.
We searched the CCDANCTR database, Medline 1966-2000, EMBase 1980-2000, Biological abstracts 1985-2000, Cinahl 1982-2000, Lilacs from 1982 onwards, Psyclit 1887-2000, Sigle 1980-2000. The reference lists of relevant papers were scanned for published reports. Hand searching of the Journal of ECT and the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry was done. Based on the title of the publication and its abstract, non-eligible citations were excluded.
Data were independently extracted by at least two reviewers. Randomised, controlled trials on depressed elderly (> 60 years) with or without concomitant with conditions like cerebrovascular disease, dementia of the Alzheimer's type, vascular dementia or Parkinson's disease were included.
Data were independently extracted by at least two reviewers. For continuous data weighted mean differences (WMD) between groups were calculated.
Randomised evidence is sparse. Only three trials could be included, one on the efficacy of real ECT versus simulated ECT (O'Leary et al 1994), one on the efficacy of unilateral versus bilateral ECT (Fraser 1980) and the other comparing the efficacy of ECT once a week with ECT three times weekly (Kellner 1992). All had major methodological shortcomings; data were mostly lacking essential information to perform a quantitative analysis. Although the O'Leary study concluded that real ECT was superior over simulated ECT, these conclusions need to be interpreted cautiously. Only results from the second trial (unilateral versus bilateral ECT) could be analysed, not convincingly showing efficacy of unilateral ECT over bilateral ECT, WMD 6.06 (CI -5.20,17.32). Randomised evidence on the efficacy and safety of ECT in depressed elderly with concomitant dementia, cerebrovascular disorders or Parkinson's disease is completely lacking. Possible side-effects could not be adequately examined because the lack of randomised evidence and the methodological shortcomings.
None of the objectives of this review could be adequately tested because of the lack of firm, randomised evidence. Given the specific problems in the treatment of depressed elderly, it is of importance to conduct a well designed randomised controlled trial in which the efficacy of ECT is compared to one or more antidepressants.