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Original Research

Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy on Functional Outcomes Among Medicare Patients With Comorbid Depression and Dementia: A Nationwide 1-Year Follow-Up Study

Samuel T. Wilkinson, MDa,b,*; Kyaw Sint, PhDc; Brent P. Forester, MD, MScd,e; and Taeho Greg Rhee, PhDa,*

Published: January 25, 2023


Objective: Current treatments for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) are of limited efficacy. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an effective and safe treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders, with some limited data suggesting a role in treating BPSD. We sought to expand this growing literature by examining—in a rigorous way with a larger sample size than in previous reports—the potential of ECT as a treatment for comorbid depression and dementia.

Methods: Drawing on nationally representative 2014–2015 Medicare claims data, propensity score methods were used to create two comparable cohorts consisting of ECT-treated patients (n = 147) and controls (n = 415) who were hospitalized with a principal psychiatric diagnosis. Functional outcomes were compared before and after hospitalization (when ECT was initiated for the ECT cohort).

Results: Both cohorts generally declined in all functional outcomes over the time period observed. The ECT cohort had a slower rate of functional decline in bathing (Cohen d = –0.05 vs 0.38; P < .001) and transferring (d = 0.18 vs 0.45; P = .031) compared to matched controls. In multivariate analysis, ECT patients also fared better in the overall activities of daily living summary score at 180 days (coefficient = −0.10; 95% CI, −0.19 to 0.01), though these effects were small. No difference was seen in cognition or ambulation.

Discussion: Receiving ECT does not worsen the trajectory of functional outcomes compared to not receiving ECT in older adults with comorbid depression. Randomized clinical trials are needed to more definitively examine the causal effect of ECT on functional outcomes of individuals with dementia.

Volume: 84

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