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Prof Declan McLoughlin

AMBER-Dep: Autobiographical Memory and Depression

The AMBER-Dep: Autobiographical Memory and Depression study aims to investigate the effects of depression and its treatment on memory function.

We are investigating the effects of depression on autobiographical memory. This refers to personal memories about one’s own life acquired in the past and is an integral part of our identity. Over time, such personal memories may begin to fade. However, it is not clear how the extent of this loss differs between healthy and depressed people. Furthermore, it is not known how treatments used for depression affect memory.

The most effective treatment available for severe depression is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a medically safe procedure in which the brain is briefly stimulated by an electric charge that induces a controlled seizure. Concerns regarding autobiographical memory following ECT, however, remain an issue for patients and clinicians.

Current research is focused on reducing the side effects of ECT, while maintaining its unparalleled efficacy. To do this, it is firstly important to understand how treatment affects memory independent of the experience of low mood and the passage of time.

In this study, three groups of participants will be compared on clinical measures of mood and memory over the course of four months:

  • Healthy participants (a measure of the effect of time on memory)
  • Depressed participants not receiving ECT (a measure of the effect of low mood on memory)
  • Depressed participants receiving ECT (a measure of the effect of ECT on memory)

The results of this study will increase our understanding of memory, depression and ECT and will inform attempts to improve the treatment for severe depression. The availability of treatment with greater efficacy and fewer side effects would greatly improve the quality of life of those suffering from severe depression and their families - the ultimate aim of our research.

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The KARMA-Dep Trial