When one thinks of technology, there are some forms that are generally regarded as painfully primitive. Electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT) was used widely in the early 20th century in several countries to treat disorders considered by society to be aberrant. Then the treatment itself fell under scrutiny, with many doctors claiming it caused brain damage.
This has not stopped ECT from taking place. In 2012, US newspaper The Huffington Post carried the headline “Shock Therapy’s Effect on Depression Discovered, Researchers Say”. The report said that the researchers in question had definitive proof that ECT is the “best medicine” for deep depression.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advised in 2005 that ECT should be used only with the informed consent of the patient or their guardian, and should be used under anaesthesia. In countries as diverse as the US, Japan, India and Nigeria, ECT is still a common practice used to treat a variety of psychiatric and physical disorders.
Earlier this year, medical practitioners in Rome, Italy, administered ECT to a group of 18 young dyslexic children and teens. The patients were given mild electric shocks via wires attached to the scalp.
The tests were administered at Rome’s Bambin Gesu Children’s Hospital and the doctors worked in collaboration with the Santa Lucia Foundation’s brain stimulation laboratory.
The children received one milliampere of electrical current (equal to a single Christmas tree light) for 20 minutes weekly for six weeks.Doctors reported that all they would feel was a mild vibration.
The project leader, Deny Menghini, says the team found that the children’s reading improved in speed and accuracy by an average of 60% after the six-week treatment programme. Such a radical improvement could take a year using traditional teaching methods. Menghini also says that the improvement was still evident six months after the trial: subjects were able to identify and read new and uncommon words.
Not everyone is comfortable with the Rome trial. Sue Fowler, co-founder of the Dyslexia Research Trust in the UK, says: “There are lots of ways to increase reading speed that are not so dramatic, like using yellow and blue lenses in glasses, which can help stop words moving around.”
Category: Spring 2016