ECT & Memory
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Q:  ECT & Memory

Dr,  I underwent a series of ECT's in late 2000, early 2001.  My memory has been screwed ever since.  I live in a 8 week window.  After about eight weeks I just forget just about all that has happened in the previous 8 weeks.  My memory of current events slips like a worn out clutch.  Example, a father of one of my kids friends came over and I could not remember his face.  I forget directions,  what I have eaten at restaurants and if I liked it or not.  I live by notes and the good graces of my wife as I take lousy notes.   I'm tired and worn out doc can anything help me recover??

Dear Mr. G' -- 
I've forwarded your question to a colleague of mine who does ECT.  We'll see what he says.  For now, let's say that if you don't hear back from me here via this website, that he had no ideas on how you should proceed.  There are very bad stories like yours out there.  I'm going to refer you to a website that has a bulletin board and wants to help support people with such stories.  

Before I send you and perhaps others there, however, a word about ECT.  In my area this is never used unless the patient is:  a) desperate for some sort of solution to symptoms that have not responded to many, many other interventions; and b) entirely voluntary in the request for ECT.  Thus, at least in Oregon, where there are only 4 doc's doing ECT and it's hard to come by unless you really want it, there appears to me to be no problem in having people get ECT who don't want it.  Notice that on the website you're about to visit, at least half the energy is about this issue. 

Secondly, ECT is known to cause memory problems, as you surely heard before ECT.  However, it's not supposed to do what has happened to you, and you were probably not warned that this would happen.  In fact, according to the research I've encountered -- and I recently was studying it because I was recently considering gearing up to offer ECT myself, as it's in such demand around my area -- when patients are studied 6 months after ECT you can't detect evidence then of cognitive problems, including memory.  This is different for people who have had many treatments, though.  You may have had quite a few in the "series" of ECT's?  There is new evidence that a large number of treatments with ECT can indeed cause cognitive problems, including memory.  Here's the abstract for that article; unfortunately, it does not say how many treatments, on average, were involved. Rami-Gonzales 

Ok, now for the (hopefully) supportive website.  Just be cautious about joining in with the energy there about how bad ECT is, okay?  It's been a lifesaver, literally, for several of my patients.  There is a new technique using a very high power magnet that you may have heard about, called repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or rTMS, that has been shown in several studies to be as effective, or nearly so, as ECT.Grunhaus ; Janicak  One of the experts in the field recently told me that there is evidence showing that people who respond to ECT preferentially respond to rTMS.  There are apparently at least two doc's in the U.S. who are doing rTMS privately; otherwise it's still a research tool.  I plan to offer rTMS myself within a year, if the logistics work out as hoped.  The point here is that we may have an alternative to ECT coming soon; but until it is available, ECT is a vital tool that we should not scare people away from.  They just need to know that really bad outcomes occasionally do happen, like yours.  If I ever offered ECT, I'd link the "anti-ECT" website below and require people to read it before they consented to the procedure. 

Ok, here you go, and good luck: (in case you haven't already found it...)

Dr. Phelps

Published March, 2003


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