Refractory Catatonia in Old Age: A Case Report

Emma Bean; Callum Findlay; Claire Gee; Jay Amin


J Med Case Reports. 2021;15(406) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: Catatonia is a clinical syndrome characterized by psychomotor disruption, which often goes undiagnosed. Most reports have focused on interventions and outcomes for catatonia in younger people and those with schizophrenia. The clinical characteristics and course of catatonia in old age are poorly understood. We present a report of an older person whose catatonia was refractory to extensive treatment, and we identify important implications for the management of catatonia in old age.

Case Presentation: We describe a 73-year-old white man with longstanding autistic spectrum disorder who presented with symptoms of depression. Following a period of diagnostic uncertainty and failure to improve with antidepressant medication, a lorazepam challenge yielded an abrupt improvement in presentation. The patient was treated extensively with lorazepam, zolpidem, and electroconvulsive therapy during his 16-month hospital admission, but his catatonia ultimately proved refractory to treatment.

Conclusions: Catatonia should be considered promptly as a differential diagnosis in older people presenting with atypical features of functional mental illness. Although partial improvement of catatonic features was achieved using benzodiazepines and electroconvulsive therapy, these were not sustained in our patient. We identified comorbid autistic spectrum disorder, prolonged duration of catatonia, and sensitivity to benzodiazepines as important factors in prognostication in old age.