Memory Training Program Shows Promise in Countering Memory Loss From ECT Treatment

Joan Prudic, M.D.
Joan Prudic, M.D.

A promising pilot study of a program called Memory Training for ECT (Mem-ECT) designed to prevent or lessen the memory loss experienced by many people with depression who undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was conducted by NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee Joan Prudic, M.D., and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center.

While highly effective for treating severe depression in those for whom current antidepressant medications and psychotherapies fail to work, ECT can trigger cognitive difficulties in a high percentage of patients, primarily significant and often permanent memory loss. ECT-induced memory loss can cause patients to abandon needed ECT before completion; the fear of it can lead other patients to resist ECT treatment altogether. To date, no intervention to mitigate the cognitive deficits imposed by ECT has been developed. The purpose of this initial Mem-ECT trial, which involved eight patients with depression, was to assess recruitment procedures, patient response and compliance, length of exercises and how best to schedule treatment sessions.

Mem-ECT is based on a method to forestall memory loss in epilepsy patients that was developed and piloted by Jimmy Choi, Psy.D., a member of Dr. Prudic’s group and first author of the paper. Sarah H. Lisanby, M.D., a 1996 NARSAD Grantee formerly at Columbia and now chair of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, also participated in the study.

The Mem-ECT program is comprised of seven training sessions, each lasting  around 20 to 30 minutes, and incorporates paper-and-pencil and computer-based training tasks. There are two pre-ECT memory training sessions and five sessions after the final ECT treatment. The preliminary sessions are designed to alert patients to and explain about possible memory difficulties associated with ECT, and to teach and provide practice for memory-saving strategies.

In Mem-ECT drill and practice exercises, points that are first awarded for producing the best memory strategy are subsequently changed to rewards for identifying the worst strategy, with lessons to show why such a strategy is inefficient. This approach, which the authors claim leads to a much quicker learning curve, is a relatively novel technique not commonly found in current cognitive training programs where the focus is usually on identifying only the correct or best strategy.

While the original memory training for epilepsy provided the same exercises for all patients, Mem-ECT is personalized to each patient to maximize efficiency. Training begins at a level of difficulty tailored to the patient’s baseline cognitive profile, and task difficulty is then modified according to the patient’s progress.

To follow up on their positive preliminary findings, Dr. Prudic and her colleagues will now conduct a larger Mem-ECT study, involving 32 patients in a randomized, controlled trial that will extend over a two-year period.

Article comments

My brother was treated twice with ECT to deal with his depression. He was very bright and had a position as an actuary for an insurance company. It was the only occupation he ever pursed and he was in his early 50"s. After facing the possiblity of a third session, he elected to take his own life. Can I say that the prospect of further memory loss drove his to this behavior, of course not.
But it does highlight the how critical the research by Dr. Prudic and her team is in helping patients sustain memory function.

I am trying to find information and other individuals who have experienced several ongoing weekly/by-weekly treatments of ECT. I was able to stop my consistent 4 1/2 year treatments around 8 months ago. I would love to find someone who has been through a similar experience. Thanks.

ECT is not a "treatment". It is a barbaric brute assault on the brain. It is treating distress by brain damaging people and destroying their sense of self and identity. Read the sad comments below. Any "real" doctor should be committed to seeing this lunatic bogus "procedure" banned, not looking for ways to help people after they are brain-damaged by it.
What kind of ignorance and stupidity allows for the continuation of "electrical lobotomies"? If I had a broken or injured leg, would I want someone to smash me in the leg with a baseball bat dozens of times to help me "heal"? Well ECT is closed head injury concussions, with the grand mal seizures "real" doctors work to prevent.
The books and research have clearly shown ECT serves no useful purpose, is damaging, degrading, and traumatizing. But who cares when the shock docs are making money ET the cost of people's lives.

My daughter has undergone ECT for nearly 2 yrs. and has experienced serious and disheartening memory loss. Is there a way she can benefit from your findings or those of other researches before your study is completed?

After 19 ECT treatments as part of the ongoing memory study, I not only have forgotten many things but still have no recollection after the facts have been pointed out to me. 3+ months later I don't remember getting visits or calls from anyone except during my final two weeks after ECT had ended. But the loss pre-dates the start of ECT considerably. This week I was standing inside my son's storage unit. I said I'd never been there before; he said I was the one who rented the unit, created the security code and arranged the contents. Months prior to my admission in March I attended a NAMI training session for support group facilitators upstate. Yet when I found correspondence from the director with program information my response was to lament missing the training. Then I found my certificate from NAMI. I spent 3 days in a location hours from home and it didn't even ring a bell to see his letter thanking me for my interest and confirming that I could have a private room. I also suffered cognitively. Some ability is coming back to me but I still think I left about 20 IQ points behind.... I know ECT has helped many people, but of those who participated in Dr. Prudic's study while I was there, all but one person deny any improvement. Maybe it's subtle and we just haven't noticed it. Who knows? Things are pretty scattered in my head and I mostly notice worsening of symptoms vs. improvement. However, although I have no idea if ECT has anything to do with this, I'm not feeling suicidal at the moment. Paradoxically, I feel worse emotionally and my functionality has suffered. Still, while suicidality is a constant companion, completion currently seems like a bridge too far.

I received ECT over a dozen times. Each time I was treated, my depression symptoms decreased. My memory would be severely effected for a day or two following the treatment. It has now been 4 months since my last treatment and I have noticed a significant decrease in my ability to remember all sorts of things. My IQ has to be lower than it once was. I used to be a straight A student on scholarship in a doctorate program at a well-respected university. Now I can't remember the plots in most books, movies, and TV shows. It doesn't matter if I read or saw them long before ECT, during the year of ECT treatment, or if I read the book yesterday. I can't really even read a book. If I read a few chapters, the next day I can not remember well enough to pick up where I left off. I remember very little of what I read the previous day. I do think my memory is slowly improving. However I feel like a different person. I feel like I sacrificed a huge chunk of who I am. It is very disheartening. Can this memory treatment help me?

The description written by Pearl is an exact description of my symptoms and my life. My name is Earl and 'Pearl' is a name I use for online comments when I prefer not to use my real name. It is entirely possible that I am the Pearl that wrote that description on October 26, 2013. However, I don't remember it. I don't remember ever coming to this website or reading any of this material. Total memory loss of events is so common that I think I probably did write the description but only 2 weeks later I don't remember it at all.

If anyone has any ideas for memory recovery please, please, please email me at

Sometime in late 2013, I spent a terrifying night with a panic attack and I knew that I would end my life if I didn't get help.. It was the worst night in decades of mental illness.I determined that I would admit myself into a neuropsychiatric hospital. I had something like 20 ECT treatments. I got another job as an advisor of investments. I had 28 year career. The treatments affected me. I was unable to think clearly, remember names or faces,details of conversations, general confusion. I traveled alot and found myself getting lost, driving past locations as my mind wandered. Its true that my depression had caused some of these problems to a lesser degree in the past, but I was unable to make any sales for six months and lost my job. I am not hireable. I know that the methods I have used for decades to make up for these problems does not work anymore. I a!so don't want to get as depressed as I had been that night. I needed ECT but I have lost my career. The treatment worked for depression. If you need it get it. There is a cost. Don't muscle your way through serious life threatening depression.

I feel for those of you posting above. I am a male, late 40s and wen through several series of bilateral and unilateral ECT treatments at a prestigious medical center from 2008-2010. The treatments may have saved my life, but I now have many of the conditions noted above. I cannot recall any events from that time frame. I have issues with recalling peoples names and recalling words sometimes that are on "the tip of my tongue". I have had some improvement I think due to exercise, nutrition and mindfulness. There seem to be many emerging commercial programs that claim to have brain games and exercises to improve cognition, executive functioning and memory retrieval but most probably cannot support their claims with scientific evidence - or use flawed research to support their claims. New developments in neuroscience, brain imaging and alternative treatments keeps me hopeful for advancements in treatment. My friends and family are very, very supportive but I think there is still social stigma attached to ECT and mental illness in general. Keep the faith.

It has not been 10 months since my last ECT. The more time goes by the more that I notice is missing. I have posted twice on this site in the past. I want to give a brief update. Like KSM65 I am using mindfulness, commercial programs, exercise, and good nutrition. My ability to cope with and compensate for the losses is improving. However almost everyday I discover new things that I don't remember. Many of those things predate ECT by several years. I am much much less effective at relationship management. I can't remember important conversations I had with my wife yesterday. I remember having them, I remember that we went on a walk and had pleasant and valuable conversation that I wanted to remember but no matter how much I try I can not remember what we talked about. I am 37 but I feel like my brain is 92 and dementia is setting in.

Like many of the posters...I had 41 bilateral, unilateral and LART treatments for severe, and so far, untreatable depression and suicidal ideations. It has now been five months from my last treatment, my memory has been greatly impacted, my ability to read has been challenged and my ability to remember 'steps' is gone. B'and D's look the same to me as do 'g' and 'd'. Also, I cannot recall simply words in the middle of a sentence, likewise, when I write, although I know what I want to say, I miss words. Sadly, my depression remains. From treatment 1 to 12, I told my psychiatrist I'd take a bit of memory loss if I could feel better...and I should have stopped at #20. But the eternal of feeling even slight relief or hope kept me going.

I researched ECT for a year before choosing to start it so I did know this could happen, it is still sad and frustrating. Additionally, my hospital and clinic offers no follow up memory care or support, there are no ECT support groups in San Francisco, or anywhere for that matter, that I could find. A support group model would be easy to implement...and could help many people, both who saw success thru treatment, and for those of who didn.t.

I have had over 50 bilateral ECTs. I stopped that treatment 3yrs ago because of severe memory damage. I forgot every street in the city I have lived in for my entire life. I am still relearning these. I forgot all my years of university studies and basically all of my treasured memories of family and friends. I am finding the long term memories can now be remembered if they are triggered, however some have just gone. I experience many of the problems mentioned in above posts eg. Reading a book and picking it up the next day and not remembering what I have read (interestingly this happens with fiction but not as often with non-fiction). I find words on the tip of my tongue but my brain just can't seem grab them, several hours later the word will pop into my head. I can't retain appointments etc & must write down everything. I have developed strategies to help me deal with the memory loss and continue to seek out memory building techniques. However, serious attention must be given to this issue, as others have stated it is a devastating long term side effect of ECT and one which I believe can be at least partially rectified with memory specific treatment after ECT.

I have been suicidal because of the effects ect had on all of my brain function, not just memory though that has badly been affected. My language has also been a problem. It was like a black hole in my head. The frustration around language is huge. I also have no ability to feel my feelings in a normal way now and i would rather i had died than had this treatment. I was not depressed just ill with toxic shock syndrome when i had this treatment and i have suffered with severe depression over the loss of my self, and i have lost friendships as i am no longer myself as well and there were traces of epilepsy on the post ect eeg which were not there before. If anyone knows where to go to get help to cope around the damage and how to repair it i would really like to know. I also would be glad to know how to recover form the experience of being held down to be anesthetized as a young woman by two men. there was nothing therapeutic about any of my treatment in mental hospital and i imagine it would have even worse effects on someone really ill. I am glad people are starting to talk about the real effects now. The sense of isolation and loneliness has been profound. I've even felt jealous of people with documented brain injury for getting acknowledgement of their injury. The worst bit of all is being called mental and being accused of having illnesses i don;t have when i feel most of my difficulties are due to brain injuries and suicidal feelings related to feeling i am unable to cope with living with the new me and being patronised by people who say everything is my imagination. . I also think it damaged my blood brain barrier as i nearly died as immediately afterwards i spiked a temperature of 106 F. I personally dont; think it should ever be given and i don't; believe it cures depression, i think it just damages ones ability to feel properly the feelings that are obviously there and can be seen by others though not felt by me. i would be very pleased to hear of anyone who is able to offer any advice on how and what to do to regain connection between the two brains.

My experience with ECT is similar to all of the above comments, and I feel deeply for all those who have been through such experiences. It is excruciatingly painful to lose one's memory, especially going into the procedure with the initial purpose of escaping depression and suicidal ideation.

Personally, before ECT I had tried nearly hundreds of medications to treat such mental illness (severe depression with recurrent psychotic features, anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempts, self harm, etc.) and have found not one of them has ever impacted me positively. I do not mean to exaggerate by saying that medication doesn't "work for me" but having been through so many of them with no positive results creates an overwhelming frustration.

I turned to a spiraling life of risky and self destructive behaviors, doing anything I could think of to distract from the depression and tugging suicidal urges. After many unrewarding hospitalizations, outpatient programs, and residential treatment facilities, I was sent to receive ElectroConvulsive Therapy. I had just turned sixteen years old.

I had fourteen sessions in the space of two- three weeks. Of course, I have no memory of this, the devastating effects of memory loss being the reason I found this website in the first place. My loss of memory since ECT is destroying me.

Following my ECT treatments, to my confusing and embarrassment, sources described to me the events that took place during those weeks; specifically, shockingly disruptive things that I, myself, had apparently done. Imagine my horror upon hearing that I had taken off all my clothes and run around the hospital like a wild animal! That is something I would never do and I have absolutely no recollection of this. I used to cringe to even think about it.

But that doesn't bother me anymore. It's the day to day struggle that I, like many past and current ECT patients, struggle with the most. I'm a responsible college student with intelligent grades, but school is incredibly difficult for me. I must write down everything I hear, or even think about, in order to have any recollection of it, when I'm able to at all. Often times, I am continually unable to remember the simplest things, especially directions. I have lived in my apartment for almost 4 months now and just a few days ago I had to have someone physically draw me a map so I could find my way to the local park across the street.

I don't remember people I've met just the day before, when they come up to say hello. I look at the contacts in my phone, the text messages, the pictures, and it's as if someone else is living my life for me. I don't recall what I did this week, last week, and beyond. Furthermore, I'm unable to think of any memories from my childhood and teen years, leaving me confused and distraught at the mystery of what happiness ever felt like.

ECT patients are most often able to talk to a doctor(s), therapists, psychiatrists, etc. about our struggles. Unfortunately, being a teenager, the stigma against mental illness and ECT is as negative and ignorant as ever. I have not, and can not, tell any fellow college students even my close friends, because one mention of "Electro shock" and all the sudden that means you're insane in their eyes. Or "crazy". The majority of people my age in my surroundings (college), only know of ECT as the form of torture used in medieval times. And there is no way to explain it clearly enough to keep my friends and classmates from getting freaked out and pushing me out as a social reject. This is no exaggeration either. I am constantly being called out and ridiculed for not remembering how to get to my friends' houses, the grocery store, the main streets, etc. since people have seen me and/or gone with me to such destinations, and don't understand that I have no recollection of it. They don't understand that I'm not trying to just be stupid or lazy- there are parts of my life that will never be the same as someone without an understanding of mental illness and treatments such as ECT.

I am now eighteen years old, an age countless people have told me they are envious of and the youth they wish they could relive. But the years are wasting away and I have nothing to show for it but hospital bills, confusion, and apologies to the people I've hurt over and over in my struggle. The feelings of isolation and confusion do not seem to go away, each day leaving me more frustrated and doomed to live a life of dull depression with gaping holes in my past as to where I've been, what I've done, who I've met, what I said to whom and when, etc. And then comes the biggest question of them all- Who was I, to begin with?

In 1999, i was given 7 ECTs & i was fine wth it. Now in 2011 I was in depression & I was given 14 ECTs. & my memory loss started eversince. Memory loss is pretty high. Like whatever I ate yester day I forget, think abt something i forget what was i thinking, Try to remember my old songs, conversations, lack of concentration means can't follow dialouge of a film, no reading, can't focus, can't plan a daily menu. so depression starts, & feel what kind of life i'm going through, there's no point to leave. mind's become absolutely help.

For those of you posting your experiences, thank you. I can not begin to imagine what it's like to suffer from memory loss like this. Just know, as a family member of someone who is going through the same struggles as most of you, you are loved. You are important to someone and probably many people. You have a handicap that is not physical and is not well talked about. I am sorry, I am so sorry. Please know that you are not alone and impact other people's lives you don't even know. One day at a time. One reminder at a time.

I am so glad I found this website. I have had 25-30 etc treatments over the past 6-7years. I've quit my treatment so many times my psychiatrist fired me once and my insurance company has threatened to quit paying for treatments. To be truthful I hate the treatments. I told my psychiatrist I thought the treatments were barbaric and he didn't appreciate it. I have to admit that they have helped me but they have left me with both long and short term memory loss. My neurologist put me on the medication aricept. I was forgetting how to get places when I was driving. I can't remember conversations, names, times, dates, husband has to remind me of alot of long term memory is the's like I don't have a past anymore. I keep telling the psychiatrist that's giving me the ects. He doesn't seem concerned at all but I am because it's getting worse. I'm thinking about quitting treatments again. He'll fire me. But it's just as depressing and scary having memory loss.

I can identify completely with Lotus (August 11, 2014). I underwent 18 ECT treatments between July 2002 and November 2002. I refused to have additional treatments in December. I had complained in early November that my memory loss was quite severe, more than just the "few days surrounding each treatment" as I had been told to expect. My Doctor noted that in his files but I underwent 2 more treatments in November. By December, I had almost no memories at all.
I had an appointment with him at the clinic the day I refused to undergo further ECT treatments. As he was walking me out of his office we ran into a woman who said: "Hi Mary." I asked her how she knew me, it turns out she was my then current psychotherapist. I believed she had been my therapist for those past 6 months. In 2012 I learned through a request for medicial files that she had been my therapist for 2 1/2 years. You don't even know what you don't remember. Back in 2003 I was told by a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic that only 1 out of 113,000 ECT patients experienced this type of total memory loss. Until I stumbled upon this site today, I had still believed that. I have found a great deal of comfort in reading all of the comments. Some memories have spontaneously returned over the years, but my life as I knew it was forever changed. It helps more than you know to discover I am not alone.

I recently went through 11 unilateral ECT treatments. I am aware, per my doctors information and research online, that bilateral ECT has more side effects of memory loss. However with the unilateral ECT I am experiencing some short term and long term memory loss post treatment. I will admit I did have slight memory problems prior to ECT which is why the doctor chose unilateral, however I have forgotten things such as my address at that moment, names of things I always knew, and what my work hours were when I was about to return to work. It is very scary. I start work again in a few days and am so fearful my short term memory problem is going to effect my work proformance. Part of me wants to do maintenance ECT but am not sure it is worth it. I do believe it helped my depression but if I do maintenance ECT I don't know how I would keep my job.

hi I just finished a round of outpatient 3x week for 3 weeks then a few biweekly treatments - unilateral
I also had Inpatient treatment last year with 12 treatments in hospital then weekly treatments for a month (starting in February of this year 2015.)

I have to emphasize this was MY choice based on the symptoms of depression to the point of paranoia and imagining things that were not happening (they tell me it was psychotic features of major depression)

I had previously been totally against the idea and thought it barbaric.

However, I am not a victim and my doctors made sure I wanted a treatment before each one, that I signed informed consent every 30 days, and that I was improving.

Every medical intervention has its risks and benefits and I did a pro/con list before embarking on this course of treatment.

I am noticing about a month out from last one that I am finding it hard for my brain to feel "awake" all the way. I don't really want to go out much nor drive much though I have medical clearance to do so now.

The fact that my symptoms are not scaring me now, (or very importantly my friends and family) is a pro of this treatment.

My regular psychiatrist tells me he is proud of me for making the choice in my own time, and seeing 2 courses of treatment through, (by my own choice) though the side effects are definitely something not to take lightly (headaches, body aches, etc.)

I feel changed and have to take life a bit slower. Forming cohesive thoughts and sentences takes a little bit of consideration.

I am learning to write things down more, I can handle my personal business affairs and interact with people. I don't want to die anymore.

I'll take feeling a bit brain dead some days over wanting to die, thanks.

Again, like any other medical procedure, ECT must be fully understood in terms of risks/benefits, and one must realize there are no "magic bullets" in this world.

I have treatment resistant bipolar disorder. I started feeling suicidal and was so sick of the depression and trips to the hospital that I finally decided on ECT. I've had about 8 bilateral sessions. Words cannot describe my improvement. Suicide is the furthest thing from my mind, and I am happy and motivated. Yes , my memory sucks, but for some reason it's not nearly as bad as these comments I'm reading here. Thank God! I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. My memory loss is tolerable. It's a trade-off considering the unbelievable improvement in my depression. I hope and pray that others share my experience. I feel so grateful. And I'm doing so well I'm already going down to once a week, and I plan to stop after 3 more. I will look into some kind of memory enhancing program. I'm glad I found this website. Good luck to everyone.

I as a 38 year old with the same condition can relate. It was a small price to pay to not be bed bound. Thanks for posting it helps to know there are other people in this situation.

I had 19 to 23 treatments in a 2 to 3 month period. This was seven or eight years ago. I only had mild depression, with anxiety. I had an autoimmune disease so I didn't know why I couldn't use ssri's. Kaiser said there wasn't anything else for me, and never tried some expensive medications that weren't covered. I don't remember my wedding still, and I was married ten years ago. I sent over six months in bed. Didn't care about my children, forgot how to spell, and almost ended my life. I am more depressed today than i have ever been in my life. I don't leave my home anymore. How can people say it's better than it was 50 years ago. And it is painful.

I had 25 ect treatments.i stopped because they weren't working anymore. They did do a few months and got me out of my bed for the first time in 2 years. But then something really really bad started happening. I began to have delusions. I was convinced someone wanted to kill me. I carried around a knife, blocked doors, bought a gun, barricaded doors, bought anything that could keep me safe. Once the ECT stopped. The delusions went away. So did my iq. I was a doctor now I can't remember a single clinical study I may have just read 2-3x. I got fired. by the way, I was started on Parnate which has so far worked but I have had 2 hypertensive episodes. I am not depressed but I feel so sad. I've lost what I worked so hard to get.

I had 7 bi-lateral Ects back last September to October and I have terrible recall. It is like I went from a I9 processor to a dual core. I had a decent IQ before these treatments. I have treatment resistant bipolar. When I am manic, I am nearly a genius and creative beyond description. However, when is scary. After these treatments were over I overdosed on klonopin and alchohol and had total respiratory failure and coma. It did not stop me from wanting to die. I did not have the presence of mind to even tell you now why I did that. I have terrible memory deficits and recall of vocabulary. I will just sit there and have to keep repeating 'uh, um, uh' when I used to have total mastery of verbal skills. It is one thing to type and recite all of this with time to pause and correct mistakes. It might even appear that I have no cognitive issues at all. But face-to-face conversations are awkward and the impact has been devestating for me. I am still recovering and it has been a year. Did it help me? Well....I was in a coma for 3 days and was clinically dead before intubated due to overdose. So maybe I just cycled again? I thought these treatments would help with suicicial ideation. From some of the stories I have read, it has had no cathartic results.

Add new comment


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Please note that researchers cannot give specific recommendations or advice about treatment; diagnosis and treatment are complex and highly individualized processes that require comprehensive face-to- face assessment. Please visit our "Ask an Expert" section to see a list of Q & A with NARSAD Grantees.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.