Pretreatment differences in specific symptoms and quality of life among depressed inpatients who do and do not receive electroconvulsive therapy: A hypothesis regarding why the elderly are more likely to receive ECT

W. Vaughn McCall, Wayne Cohen, Beth Reboussin, Powell Lawton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

37 Scopus citations


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is among the most commonly performed medical procedures requiring general anesthesia in the United States. Nevertheless, very little is known about the characteristics of depressed patients who receive ECT and how they differ from depressed patients receiving psychotropic medication. We conducted a detailed examination of demographic, clinical, and quality-of-life (QOL) measurements in a group of 90 depressed inpatients, and we then used these measurements to contrast the 31 patients who received ECT with the 59 who received alternative therapies. The ECT group did not differ from the non-ECT group in gender composition, marital status, race, education, employment status, overall severity of depression, chronicity of depression, adequacy of prehospitalization antidepressant treatment, extent of physical illness, or extent of social support. The ECT group was older. Furthermore, the ECT group had greater weight loss, worse functioning in activities of daily living (ADLs). and worse functioning in instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). The differences in weight loss, ADL, and IADL scores disappeared after age adjustment. However, statistical adjustment for age revealed that the ECT group reported worse capacity in their daily living and role functioning than did the non-ECT group. We conclude that the decision to pursue ECT is based in part on the perceived effect of the depression on QOL, as well as the severity of specific symptoms such as weight loss. The elderly seem particularly vulnerable to depression-related functional deficits and weight loss, and this may explain why prior studies showed a differential use of ECT in the elderly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-201
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of ECT
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999
Externally publishedYes



  • Aging
  • Depression
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Quality of life
  • Symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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