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Background: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is commonly used to treat depression in older adults. Despite its efficacy in this regard, an associated increase in the risk of falls in this population is a downside of treatment. ECT research has focused on the incidence of falls, but its effect on balance and gait – intrinsic factors in instability and falls – has not been studied. Our aim was to examine changes in balance and gait among older adults before and after a single ECT session and explore the effect of patient-related and treatment factors on any changes found. Methods: Participants were 21 older adults requiring ECT for depression in public psychiatric services. Patients with clinically overt mobility problems (impairing test participation or increasing the risk of falls) were excluded. Balance and gait testing 1 hour pre-ECT and 1, 2 and 3 hours post-ECT included: (1) steady standing test; (2) perturbation of standing balance by self-initiated movements; (3) perturbation of standing balance by an external perturbation; and (4) timed up and go test. Results: No deterioration in test performance was found, using one-way repeated measures analysis of variance. Conclusion: Balance and gait did not deteriorate immediately after ECT. Exclusion of participants with clinically overt mobility problems and falls being better attributable to factors unrelated to balance and gait (such as post-ECT confusion) may account for our findings. This research does not repudiate the occurrence of ECT-related falls but calls into question the utility of introducing routine balance and gait assessment among older ECT recipients without pre-existing mobility problems as a means of preventing them.


Institute for Health and Ageing

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access