Home About us Editorial board Ahead of print Current issue Search Archives Submit article Instructions Subscribe Contacts Login 
  • Users Online: 701
  • Home
  • Print this page
  • Email this page

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 140-142

The experience with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation as add-on treatment in the elderly with depression: A preliminary report

Department of Psychiatry, PGIMER, Chandigarh, India

Date of Web Publication29-Dec-2017

Correspondence Address:
Shubh Mohan Singh
Department of Psychiatry, PGIMER, Chandigarh
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jgmh.jgmh_4_17

Rights and Permissions

Background: Elderly depression is a fairly common and often difficult to treat condition. Elderly patients also often have comorbid medical conditions that preclude the use of other somatic treatment modalities. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a treatment methodology that is approved to be used in depression and is supposed to have fewer side-effects. This paper describes the experience of a recently started rTMS service in a tertiary hospital in North India with referred elderly patients suffering from depression. Methods: Results of rTMS therapy administered to 7 elderly patients who were referred during this period are described. Results: Only one patient with bipolar depression perceived significant benefit from rTMS. Three patients complained of mild and transient side-effects, and one patient discontinued treatment due to his medical condition (unrelated to rTMS). Conclusions: rTMS seems to be safe and well-tolerated in this population. However, further experience is needed before commenting definitely on effectiveness of this treatment modality.

Keywords: Depression, geriatric, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

How to cite this article:
Singh SM, Shouan A, Dalton N, Sharma A. The experience with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation as add-on treatment in the elderly with depression: A preliminary report. J Geriatr Ment Health 2017;4:140-2

How to cite this URL:
Singh SM, Shouan A, Dalton N, Sharma A. The experience with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation as add-on treatment in the elderly with depression: A preliminary report. J Geriatr Ment Health [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 21];4:140-2. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Depression is a fairly common psychiatric disorder in the elderly and India is no exception.[1] Depression in the elderly may differ from that seen in other age groups in phenomenology and in treatment options and response to treatment.[2],[3] The possible reasons could be physiological such as changes in brain structure, cognitive decline, other comorbid conditions and disability from these, and psychosocial stressors among other reasons.[4] As a result, sometimes the elderly may not respond to conventional treatment protocols for depression as readily as the younger patients.[5]

Neuromodulatory techniques in the treatment of geriatric depression such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and lately repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) have attracted a lot of attention worldwide.[6] Many patients refuse ECT due to the need of general anesthesia, cognitive side effects, and stigma attached to it. However, rTMS is not known to have any of these disadvantages.[7] In brief, rTMS is based on the premise that repeated application of a magnetic field over the scalp can induce the underlying neurons to fire and eventually lead to plastic changes that can be harnessed therapeutically.[8] rTMS has been used for depression since the 1990s and has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration since 2008.[9] The evidence base for rTMS in geriatric depression is limited.[10]

The Department of Psychiatry of a tertiary hospital in North India started an rTMS service in the latter half of 2016. At this point, the rTMS service is free. We present the initial experience with geriatric patients undergoing treatment with rTMS at this service.

  Methods Top

Subjects and methodology

The rTMS service in the department follows a referral model in which patients that are considered appropriate for this treatment are offered the same by their treating psychiatrist and after a written informed consent are taken up for treatment. We defined geriatric as being >55 years of age at the time of rTMS treatment. Seven right-handed patients fitted these criteria among those who were referred to the rTMS service. A total of 31 patients had been referred for rTMS during this period. [Table 1] presents the details of the patients.
Table 1: Patient details

Click here to view

All patients were on multiple psychotropics at the time of rTMS, had chronic course of illness (mean duration ~20 years) and were referred for rTMS due to refractory nature of depressive symptoms. Medications were continued as per the discretion of the treating psychiatrist throughout the course of rTMS sessions. Two patients (1 and 2) had comorbid medical illness in the form of Hypertension and one patient [3] had been advised ECT that was discontinued after he developed asystole post-ECT. All patients were treated with rTMS as per a commonly used protocol.[11] As per this protocol, F3 location of the scalp was determined as per the 10–20 system. This location generally corresponds to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) which is the target of rTMS stimulation in this protocol. Motor threshold was detected using the visual method as per the intensity required to evoke contraction of the Abductor pollicis brevis muscle of the right hand at least 50% of the times the stimulus was delivered.[12] The pulses were delivered at 100% of the motor threshold. The rTMS was delivered in the form of pulses delivered at a frequency of 10 Hz for 4 s followed by a wait period of 26 s (high frequency). We delivered 1200 pulses/session (30 trains/session). One session/day was delivered each working day (Monday–Saturday). We aimed at delivering at least 15 sessions/patient. As is obvious from [Table 1], most patients exceeded this. rTMS was delivered using a figure-of-8 coil on the Magstim Rapid2 machine.[13] Assessments were carried out by a qualified psychiatrist. As a matter of routine, all patients were assessed on the Hamilton depression rating scale (HDRS) once a week, percentage change was calculated using the baseline HDRS compared to the score derived at the end of the sessions.[14] HDRS is routinely used for patient assessment and as a widely accepted measure of treatment effectiveness. We did not specifically check for cognitive dysfunction either at baseline or during the treatment.

  Discussion Top

Patient profile

All the referred patients had chronic illnesses with chronic symptoms that were poorly responsive to long-term conventional treatments. In fact, most were on multiple psychotropics. In addition, two patients had a comorbid medical condition and one patient had a serious adverse event during ECT which necessitated its discontinuation. At the outset, the patients fulfilled the criteria for poor prognosis.[15]


rTMS is considered to be useful in the treatment of resistant depression.[16] rTMS has also been used as add-on treatment in resistant depression.[17] The use of rTMS in geriatric depression has also been considered to be promising.[10] However, the evidence is mixed. For instance, one study using stimulation with a different protocol than ours found it to be beneficial.[18] Another study with a sample size of twenty patients also found it beneficial.[19] However, other studies using slightly different protocols in term of frequency and number of pulses did not find rTMS to be beneficial in elderly patients with depression.[20],[21] In addition, both of these studies were controlled and hence methodologically more robust. There are very scarce data regarding rTMS in recurrent depressive disorder (F33) which made up the majority of patients in our series.[22] Similarly, the evidence base for the use of rTMS in comorbid depression and psychotic disorder is also scarce. Low-frequency rTMS has been found to be useful in bipolar depression.[23] Another study found it to be safe but ineffective in bipolar depression.[24]

Our experience in the light of literature review suggests the following. First, most studies have used varying treatment protocols on varying combinations of pharmacotherapy and comparisons are difficult to make. However, it seems that elderly depressed patients seem to constitute a distinct group where various factors dictate the poor response to rTMS. Most of our patients did not benefit from rTMS at the current protocol. One patient [4] perceived worsening in symptoms. A patient with bipolar depression, however, perceived a significant benefit. This indicates that elderly patients with geriatric depression may require different treatment protocols, with frontal cortical atrophy and vascular changes necessitating a greater number of pulses delivered at higher frequencies.[21],[25] It may be worthwhile to conduct initial assessments regarding brain architecture and use the information to devise better treatment protocols. Furthermore, the localization of the DLPFC in our service is blind; it is possible that better results may be had with more sophisticated neuronavigational tools that would enhance the accuracy of the rTMS stimulation. This is particularly important as the spatial penetrance of the rTMS is only about 2–3 cm.[26]

Safety and tolerability

In line with other studies, rTMS was found to be safe and effective in elderly depressed patients.[27] No major adverse events were noted. Only one patient discontinued treatment and that too due to unrelated medical conditions. The side-effects noted were headache, stiffness in neck and tinnitus in three patients and these were mild and transient. We did not specifically explore the possibility of cognitive side-effects. However, no patient complained about the same.

  Conclusions Top

rTMS appears to be a safe and well-tolerated treatment modality in elderly patients with depression. However, considering the patient profile and poor prognostic factors, more robust treatment protocols and technological aids need to be tried out for the possibility of better effectiveness.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Barua A, Ghosh MK, Kar N, Basilio MA. Prevalence of depressive disorders in the elderly. Ann Saudi Med 2011;31:620-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Hegeman JM, Kok RM, van der Mast RC, Giltay EJ. Phenomenology of depression in older compared with younger adults: Meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry 2012;200:275-81.  Back to cited text no. 2
Ellison JM, Kyomen HH, Harper DG. Depression in later life: An overview with treatment recommendations. Psychiatr Clin North Am 2012;35:203-29.  Back to cited text no. 3
Cole MG, Dendukuri N. Risk factors for depression among elderly community subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Psychiatry 2003;160:1147-56.  Back to cited text no. 4
Cole MG, Bellavance F, Mansour A. Prognosis of depression in elderly community and primary care populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:1182-9.  Back to cited text no. 5
Gálvez V, Ho KA, Alonzo A, Martin D, George D, Loo CK. Neuromodulation therapies for geriatric depression. Curr Psychiatry Rep 2015;17:59.  Back to cited text no. 6
Janicak PG, Dokucu ME. Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of major depression. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2015;11:1549-60.  Back to cited text no. 7
Fitzgerald PB, Daskalakis ZJ. An Introduction to the Basic Principles of TMS and rTMS. In: Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Treatment for Depressive Disorders. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer; 2013. p. 1-6. Available from: [Last cited on 2017 Feb 23].  Back to cited text no. 8
George MS, Taylor JJ, Short EB. The expanding evidence base for rTMS treatment of depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry 2013;26:13-8.  Back to cited text no. 9
Sabesan P, Lankappa S, Khalifa N, Krishnan V, Gandhi R, Palaniyappan L. Transcranial magnetic stimulation for geriatric depression: Promises and pitfalls. World J Psychiatry 2015;5:170-81.  Back to cited text no. 10
George MS, Lisanby SH, Avery D, McDonald WM, Durkalski V, Pavlicova M, et al. Daily left prefrontal transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy for major depressive disorder: A sham-controlled randomized trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2010;67:507-16.  Back to cited text no. 11
Borckardt JJ, Nahas Z, Koola J, George MS. Estimating resting motor thresholds in transcranial magnetic stimulation research and practice: A computer simulation evaluation of best methods. J ECT 2006;22:169-75.  Back to cited text no. 12
Magstim – Magstim Rapid2. Available from: [Last cited on 2017 Feb 27].  Back to cited text no. 13
Hamilton M. A rating scale for depression. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 1960;23:56-62.  Back to cited text no. 14
Baldwin RC. Poor prognosis of depression in elderly people: Causes and actions. Ann Med 2000;32:252-6.  Back to cited text no. 15
Gaynes BN, Lloyd SW, Lux L, Gartlehner G, Hansen RA, Brode S, et al. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment-resistant depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Psychiatry 2014;75:477-89.  Back to cited text no. 16
Rossini D, Lucca A, Zanardi R, Magri L, Smeraldi E. Transcranial magnetic stimulation in treatment-resistant depressed patients: A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Psychiatry Res 2005;137:1-10.  Back to cited text no. 17
Hizli Sayar G, Ozten E, Tan O, Tarhan N. Transcranial magnetic stimulation for treating depression in elderly patients. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2013;9:501-4.  Back to cited text no. 18
Abraham G, Milev R, Lazowski L, Jokic R, du Toit R, Lowe A. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment of elderly patients with depression – An open label trial. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2007;3:919-24.  Back to cited text no. 19
Mosimann UP, Schmitt W, Greenberg BD, Kosel M, Müri RM, Berkhoff M, et al. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation: A putative add-on treatment for major depression in elderly patients. Psychiatry Res 2004;126:123-33.  Back to cited text no. 20
Manes F, Jorge R, Morcuende M, Yamada T, Paradiso S, Robinson RG. A controlled study of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation as a treatment of depression in the elderly. Int Psychogeriatr 2001;13:225-31.  Back to cited text no. 21
Chatterjee B, Kumar N, Jha S. Role of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in maintenance treatment of resistant depression. Indian J Psychol Med 2012;34:286-9.  Back to cited text no. 22
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Dell'Osso B, Mundo E, D'Urso N, Pozzoli S, Buoli M, Ciabatti M, et al. Augmentative repetitive navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in drug-resistant bipolar depression. Bipolar Disord 2009;11:76-81.  Back to cited text no. 23
Nahas Z, Kozel FA, Li X, Anderson B, George MS. Left prefrontal transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) treatment of depression in bipolar affective disorder: A pilot study of acute safety and efficacy. Bipolar Disord 2003;5:40-7.  Back to cited text no. 24
Jorge RE, Moser DJ, Acion L, Robinson RG. Treatment of vascular depression using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2008;65:268-76.  Back to cited text no. 25
Rossi S, Hallett M, Rossini PM, Pascual-Leone A; Safety of TMS Consensus Group. Safety, ethical considerations, and application guidelines for the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation in clinical practice and research. Clin Neurophysiol 2009;120:2008-39.  Back to cited text no. 26
Wassermann EM. Side effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Depress Anxiety 2000;12:124-9.  Back to cited text no. 27


  [Table 1]


Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
Access Statistics
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)

  In this article
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded258    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal