Since developing an interest in the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in late life, I have received correspondence from psychiatrists describing difficulties in obtaining anaesthetics for elderly patients who are perceived as frail or physically unwell. Nevertheless, Pippard & Ellam (1981) found in their survey of the use of ECT in 1980 that 37% of courses were given to people aged 60 years and over. I decided to survey old age psychiatrists' views on ECT, and to look at difficulties encountered in obtaining anaesthetics. Old age psychiatrists specialise in the care of mentally ill elderly people and are dealing with patients who are particularly likely to have physical problems in addition to mental illnesses. Their experience of ECT is therefore of wider relevance to all who prescribe ECT for elderly or physically ill people.
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