Adverse events of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in older adults with depression, a systematic review of the literature

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2021 Mar;36(3):383-392. doi: 10.1002/gps.5440. Epub 2020 Nov 6.


Objective: In the last decade, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been introduced as a non-invasive neuromodulation therapy for depression. Little is known, however, about (serious) adverse events (AE) of rTMS in older adults with a depression. In this article, we want to study what is known about (serious) AE of rTMS in older adults (>60 years) with late-life depression (LLD).

Methods: A systematic search has been performed according to the PRISMA guidelines in PubMed, EMBase and PsycInfo. We have screened 622 articles for eligibility. Eleven studies, evaluating 353 patients in total, were included in this review.

Results: AE were reported in 12.4% of the older adults with a LLD treated with rTMS, serious AE in 1.5%. Headache (6.9%) and discomfort at the stimulation site (2.7%) are the most commonly reported AE. Serious AE reported are: psychiatric hospitalization (three times), a combination of posterior vitreous detachment and retinal tear, and increased suicide ideation (both once).

Conclusions: rTMS in older adults with LLD was concluded overall to be safe due to the low frequency of AE reported in trials and observational studies. In case-reports, however, more serious AE have been described. To tailor use of rTMS in older adults with LLD, more research is needed in larger samples to optimize tolerance.

Keywords: adverse events; late life depression; older adults; repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; serious adverse events.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Depression*
  • Humans
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Treatment Outcome