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Science

Researchers Use Electroconvulsive Therapy To Disrupt Recall of Nasty Events 96

Posted by samzenpus
from the zap-the-pain-away dept.
ananyo writes "In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, unhappy lovers undergo an experimental brain treatment to erase all memories of each other from their minds. No such fix exists for real-life couples, but researchers report in Nature Neuroscience that a targeted medical intervention helps to reduce specific negative memories in patients who are depressed. The technique, called electroconvulsive (ECT) or electroshock therapy, induces seizures by passing current into the brain through electrode pads placed on the scalp. Despite its sometimes negative reputation, ECT is an effective last-resort treatment for severe depression, and is used today in combination with anaesthesia and muscle relaxants. Marijn Kroes, a neuroscientist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and his colleagues found that by strategically timing ECT bursts, they could target and disrupt patients' memory of a disturbing episode."
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Researchers Use Electroconvulsive Therapy To Disrupt Recall of Nasty Events

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  • Erase all button (Score:4, Informative)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Monday December 23, 2013 @08:49AM (#45766217)
    The problem is that this therapy tends to erase all memories. It is a very blunt instrument, just slightly better than a lobotomy.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @08:57AM (#45766255)

      The problem is that this therapy tends to erase all memories. It is a very blunt instrument, just slightly better than a lobotomy.

      I don't recall having any problems with ... Oh wait!

    • by jythie (914043)
      I can't find the link right now, but there has been some interesting work with drugs to do something similar but much more targeted. Something to do with how memory is recalled and then re-remembered, so essentially anything you think about while the drug is taking effect, including recalling old memories, doesn't get stored.

      Hopefully that will hit human trials before blunter tools like this get into use.
      • Something to do with how memory is recalled and then re-remembered

        You're probably thinking of the propranolol [nature.com] trial. There has also been promising results with MDMA [mdmaptsd.org], also thought to be blocking the re-encoding of bad memories.

        aside: submitters - this is Slashdot - you don't have to relate every bit of science to some tangentially related Hollywood movie plot.

      • by mikesum (840054)
        You're probably thinking of anisomycin [apa.org] as heard on RADIOLAB. [radiolab.org]
    • The alternative would be Insulin Coma Therapy, at least for some disorders. Not practiced in the West any more.

      Sources: Insulin Coma Therapy [pbs.org]

      The famous mathematician John Nash [pbs.org] (depicted in A Beautiful Mind*) was treated with it.

      If you suffer from Nash's malady, don't read my current sig.

      * Book [amazon.com], movie [imdb.com], trailer [youtube.com], documentary [youtube.com], DVD [amazon.com].

    • by BlueStrat (756137)

      The problem is that this therapy tends to erase all memories. It is a very blunt instrument, just slightly better than a lobotomy.

      From "Future News":

      Scientists examining satellite views of Earth announced yesterday that they have begun noticing a pattern where the lights all across the US suddenly dim right after each new Snowden data release and publicized ACA-related government failure. Some are attempting to tie this with system instabilities surrounding the recently government-mandated-under-ACA-2.0 brain implants.

      When later asked for additional details, the scientists were quoted as replying; "What announcement?".

      Strat

    • by Sla$hPot (1189603)

      > It is a very blunt instrument, just slightly better than a lobotomy.

      True.
      You could also argue that it is similar to using a heavy rubber hammer to stir up all the grey matter.
      Nobody knows what actually happens when flashing someones scalp with thousands of volts.
      Changes to the brain tissue will occur at some level. IQ and memory drops significantly (over 10% to 20%), but the actual brain damage is not visible.
      The fact that ECT is being used today is sickening. However it is difficult to control this ki

      • by ultranova (717540)

        The fact that ECT is being used today is sickening.

        Then what should be used instead to treat, say, depression? Because listing the side effects is meaningless without anything to compare them to.

        • by Sla$hPot (1189603)

          >Then what should be used instead to treat, say, depression?
          Perhaps there is no cure for real depression.
          To some, being depressed is like being unhappy or having a downer. For a few, it is a serious physical condition that is very hard to change.
          Maybe it would be a good idea to understand what depression is as a condition, before trying to find a cure.
          But eating the right food and doing regular exercising is usually better than what your doctor will subscribe for you.

          • You can't cure major depression with the right food and exercises. In severe cases the patient either undergoes some irreversible brain surgery like cingulotomy or commits suicide.
      • by dmr001 (103373)
        ECT gets a bad rap because it looks sadistic and no one quite knows how it works. On the other hand, it's effective - more effective than most other forms of depression treatment, and has the benefit of working when nothing else does. (Remission is severe depression is 70-90% with ECT vs 30% with a typical SSRI pill.) I've had patients who desperately wanted to be dead because each passing moment was filled with unbearable psychic pain, who after 3 treatments of ECT (with pulses lasting a few milliseconds)
        • I would like to know where you get your information. As I find most of it dubious at best! Can you please provide some citations from reputable publications? I have lived with the effects of ECT. My mother has had 5 rounds of ECT with each consisting of 4-7 treatments each. You can trust me she was not “smiling and chipper.” On the contrary she looked like a zombie. What you call “some unpredictable holes in their memories” is that majority of her life before 30 years of age and the
    • by mrmeval (662166)

      Any so called medical perfessional who wants to use this needs to have it used on them first before any procedure.

    • by maestroX (1061960)
      Citations please (not from Ken Kesey). ECT is gaining traction nowadays (esp. in the Netherlands) as a final resort action.
      Personally, I've seen someone actually improving after serious depression.
    • by 32771 (906153)

      It doesn't always work either. I totally remember when I accidentally grabbed that 220V mains line 20 years ago.

  • They just used the ECT to give you a lobotomy.....
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      They just used the ECT to give you a lobotomy.....

      I assume it can't be quite as bad, as the brain section, though erased, is still there and can learn again.

    • by lxs (131946)

      Which worked so well after WWII. [wsj.com] But don't worry. This time we know what we're doing. Really. Trust us. At least we're not using drugs [maps.org]. Drugs are bad mkay?

    • ECT is old school, been around for a very long time.

      The first documented "medical research" applications of ECT used 60Hz 120V applied to the temples... in later years they refined the technique to include sedation of the patient so they didn't break their own limb bones with involuntary muscle contractions.

  • by Akratist (1080775) on Monday December 23, 2013 @08:52AM (#45766225)
    I can understand that something like this would be a boon to veterans with PTSD or survivors of rape or other violent episodes. However, I wonder if this will eventually get more widespread and become used for trivial things, like removing memories of a bad breakup or other parts of life which might be painful, but tolerable. It has been noted here and there before that bouts of depression have made people more artistically productive, but this can disappear with medication...if we likewise remove the negative memories, are we going to start missing heuristics that make us work to improve our lives?
    • However, I wonder if this will eventually get more widespread and become used for trivial things, like removing memories of a bad breakup or other parts of life which might be painful, but tolerable.

      So . . . you nicht die NSA und Obamacare liken? Ve haf vays . . . af maken you forgetten!

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by TheCarp (96830)

      Are you familiar with ECT? Because I can't really see it being used voluntarily outside of some pretty extreme cases. It isn't exactly like the doctor pushes a button and you just forget....we are talking about inuction of massive seizures from an external electrical source.

      I think there is a very simple way of telling if an event is so traunmatic that it warrants this sort of treatment: If undergoing the therapy sounds preferable to continuing as you are; even after considering the chances that it doesn't

      • by Isaac-1 (233099)

        I disagree, the saying time heals all wounds is particulalry apt to traumatic events, what seems impossible to recover from without such dastract treatment a week after the event, may beome manageable a few months out, and just a bad memory in a few years.

      • by Akratist (1080775)
        I'm aware of what it involves. I'm also aware that we continually improve and refine these processes, to where they become less invasive and far more convenient and comfortable. Consider, for example, the various psychiatric medications available on the market that are increasingly prescribed for trivial reasons. Modern America is a culture obsessed with escaping discomfort and unpleasantness at all costs, so it is reasonable to expect that something like this -- if refined and convenient enough -- would
        • by mysidia (191772)

          I'm aware of what it involves. I'm also aware that we continually improve and refine these processes

          We also refined our processes of execution... oh how much more humane. Look at how much more the victims of the death penalty are pleased with the final outcome?

          Consider, for example, the various psychiatric medications available on the market that are increasingly prescribed for trivial reasons.

          What, like Thorazine [stopshrinks.org], Haldol, and other chemical straitjackets; "Anti-psychotics" touted by psychiatrists d

          • Look at how much more the victims of the death penalty are pleased with the final outcome?

            Well, to be fair, there haven't been many complaints.

  • by nospam007 (722110) * on Monday December 23, 2013 @08:53AM (#45766231)

    "Researchers Use Electroconvulsive Therapy To Disrupt Recall of Nasty Events"

    That therapy is so nasty, that all other nasty events in the past are dimmed in comparison.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      "Researchers Use Electroconvulsive Therapy To Disrupt Recall of Nasty Events"

      That therapy is so nasty, that all other nasty events in the past are dimmed in comparison.

      Don't worry - they can just zap you again!

  • Marijn Kroes, a neuroscientist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and his colleagues found that by strategically timing ECT bursts, they could target and disrupt patients' memory of a disturbing episode."

    .... and give them an entirely new disturbing episode to have mental issues about.

  • Seems rather dangerous to me.

  • Adverse effects (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SternisheFan (2529412) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:12AM (#45766369)
    From Wikipedia: Liz Spikol, the senior contributing editor of Philadelphia Weekly, wrote of her ECT in 1996

    "Not only was the ECT ineffective, it was incredibly damaging to my cognitive functioning and memory. But sometimes it's hard to be sure of yourself when everyone 'credible' — scientists, ECT docs, researchers — are telling you that your reality isn't real. How many times have I been told my memory loss wasn't due to ECT but to depression? How many times have I been told that, like a lot of other consumers, I must be perceiving this incorrectly? How many times have people told me that my feelings of trauma related to the ECT are misplaced and unusual? It's as if I was raped and people kept telling me not to be upset—that it wasn't that bad."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroconvulsive_therapy#Individual_negative_accounts

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:13AM (#45766375)

    I had a severe clinical depression and was hospitalized for a while. I shared a room with a guy who was undergoing ECT and he was a complete zombie.

    To the doctors complete surprise I declined the ECT offer. They didn't quite understand my point, that I was the mad scientist. Not them.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:29AM (#45766457)

    When there is a method that can be used in a much more targeted fashion?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130910140941.htm [sciencedaily.com]

    In the near future, it could be as simple as take a pill, interview an analyst about your most disturbing memories and be free of them. The trick is not to recall anything you don't want to forget before the pill wears off.

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:29AM (#45766463) Homepage Journal
    It probably can be used to change people behaviour and even (political) thinking. Just don't use it to make people hate Ludwig van music.
  • Not a good idea. You need the bad memories. It's called learning, even if they're terrible experiences. And, unless you want treatments forever, one must realize that's it's quite probable that they will simply seep back into your conscious memory over time. Imagine what it would be like ten years later to suddenly realize what you'd gone through - and elected to forget - and hadn't.
    • So rape and PTSD are just learning experiences?

    • There is a difference between remembering bad things to learn from them and turning them into something pathological.

      To give you an example, a normal person would maybe walk across the road when the traffic light shows red and gets almost run over by a car. He will learn that it's not a smart thing to cross the road when the traffic light shows red.

      The pathological "lesson" from it would be that it is dangerous to cross the road. These people do not learn from the experience in the normal sense. They do of

  • by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:43AM (#45766549)

    ... nothing was working to turn her severe depression. Multiple suicide attempts. ECT literally saved her life.

    Yes, it had sucky side effects. But she is alive. And a lot happier now.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Opportunist (166417)

      It's said that dumb people are happier. I hope that's not what you imply.

      • Did you seriously just type that?

        Of course not.

        She's a lot more human than most people who replied to my post, that's for sure ...

  • If would forget the mistakes I made in choosing them as a partner, learn nothing from those mistakes, and end up with someone just as horrible as the last person.

  • Where they are going, the drums don't stop... :)
  • OK not really. I knew someone with severe PTSD and after going through electroshock they were much better. They were able to be happy once again. While it may seem barbaric and extreme, think about what kind of extreme pain got them there in the first place.
  • I can see how this would work very well for some people. Read Self Comes to Mind for seeing how the physical brain creates a mental mind.
    The fundamental basis is pain vs pleasure.
    Scientific American had an article a few years ago that therapy was bad for certain groups of people such as children in school shootings. It brought up and reinforced tragedies instead of allowing them to gradually decay in the memory banks. I can see this doing the same thing for people who can't stop remembering things. It's b
    • by ultranova (717540)

      You can also train to avoid pointless memories and useless beliefs--probably the main reason we don't teach people to think about how they think or even teach people to perform critical thinking.

      The reason we don't teach people to meta-think is that it would make it harder to feed them political and economic messages. A good consumer buys what he's told, a good drone works where he's told and a good parishioner condemns what and who he's told. The less they think about what they're doing and why, the less

  • Why would anyone want this when a proven method (large amount of alcohol)exists?

  • Yeah, it probably erases a lot of good memories too. Every few years you see something like this where the supporters of ECT try to come up with new reasons to justify using it.

    Memories of bad romances? Hell, that's a good thing. They keep me from making the same damn mistakes I've made in the past.

  • Nothing can erase goatse. I know, because I tried...

Hold on to the root.

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