Simulated Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Novel Approach to a Control Group in Clinical Trials

Kaitlin R. McManus, Maria I. Lapid, Brent P. Forester, Martina Mueller, Adriana P. Hermida, Louis Nykamp, David G. Harper, Stephen J. Seiner, Sohag Sanghani, Regan Patrick, Melanie T. Gentry, Simon M Kung, Janette C. Leal, Emily K. Johnson, Georgios Petrides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives Agitation is the most common behavioral symptom of Alzheimer disease (AD) affecting approximately 40% to 60% of the AD population, yet there are no Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies for the myriad of behavioral or psychological symptoms of dementia. There is growing evidence from naturalistic studies that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a safe and effective treatment for agitation in AD patients who are refractory to pharmacotherapy and behavioral interventions. Despite the existing evidence, ECT remains underused because of stigma, lack of education, and concerns regarding adverse cognitive effects. Randomized controlled clinical trials of ECT are an opportunity to provide high-quality evidence of ECT as a safe and efficacious treatment for agitation in the AD population. We describe the methods for the Electroconvulsive Therapy in Alzheimer's Dementia study, which uses a novel, simulated ECT (S-ECT) control group to conduct a single-blind efficacy study of ECT for the treatment of agitation and aggression in individuals with moderate to severe AD. Methods We discuss the rationale, study design, methodology, ethical and practical challenges, and management strategies in using an S-ECT group as the comparator arm in this randomized controlled trial of ECT in AD-related treatment refractory agitation and aggression. Conclusions Validation of the safety and efficacy of ECT in patients with advanced AD with refractory agitation and aggression is necessary. This can be accomplished through creative formulation of S-ECT groups that effectively maintain the blind while providing scientific integrity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-170
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of ECT
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022


  • agitation
  • Alzheimer disease
  • behavioral symptoms
  • dementia
  • electroconvulsive therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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