Background: Although little doubt exists among practising clinicians in old age psychiatry about the efficacy and safety of ECT in depression, opinions about acceptability differ widely. The objectives of this review were to determine the efficacy and safety of ECT based on both randomised and non-randomised evidence in elderly with a major depressive disorder. Methods: Randomised and non-randomised studies on efficacy and safety of ECT in elderly with and without concomitant disorders such as cerebrovascular disorders, Alzheimer's dementia, vascular dementia and Parkinson's disease were selected. Literature was systematically searched in a number of electronic databases. Results: Although 121 studies were included in the review process, only four provided randomised evidence. No negative studies with respect to efficacy were found. ECT is effective in the acute treatment of late life depression. ECT is generally safe, although a number of serious complications possibly related to ECT have been described. Most of the objectives of this review could not be answered or refuted with certainty, because firm randomised evidence on the efficacy and safety of ECT in the depressed elderly is missing. Conclusions: ECT is effective in the acute treatment of late life depression and is generally safe. Important questions such as the relative efficacy of ECT over antidepressants, the long-term efficacy of ECT, morbidity and mortality related to ECT, cost-effectiveness and the efficacy of ECT in subgroups of patients cannot be answered and need to be studied further.