People with Alzheimer’s have an increased risk of seizures, a risk that increases as their condition progresses. Experts do not know why, although several brain mechanisms seem to play a role in both Alzheimer’s and seizures.

In the United States alone, roughly 4.5 million people ages 65 and over have Alzheimer’s.

Individuals with Alzheimer’s may develop memory loss, have difficulty making decisions, and repeat questions. They might also experience seizures.

This article discusses the link between Alzheimer’s and seizures.

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Scientists have amassed compelling evidence for a link between Alzheimer’s and seizures.

According to a 2022 review, in people over age 65, the risk of epileptic seizures is 10 times higher in those with Alzheimer’s than in those who do not have the condition.

Furthermore, a family history of Alzheimer’s is a risk factor for seizures.

Additionally, scientists have observed an increased likelihood of epileptiform activity in people with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Epileptiform activity is a pattern of brain activity that arises in seizures but does not always cause them.

Following established medical usage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) divides seizures into separate types.

There are two main forms of seizure: generalized seizures and focal seizures.

Generalized seizures affect both the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously. Focal seizures affect just one part of the brain.

There are two principal types of generalized seizure:

  • Absence seizures: These seizures may cause rapid blinking or staring into space for a few moments.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures: This type can make a person cry out, lose consciousness, and fall. They may experience muscle jerks or spasms.

There are three principal types of focal seizures:

  • Focal onset aware seizures: Previously called simple partial seizures, focal onset aware seizures may cause twitching or changes in sensation, such as smells or tastes.
  • Focal impaired awareness seizures: These seizures can cause confusion or make someone feel dazed. They were previously called complex partial seizures.
  • Focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizure: Previously called secondary generalized seizures, focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures begin as focal seizures of any type before transforming into some form of generalized seizure.

The aforementioned 2022 review states that people with Alzheimer’s can have both focal and generalized seizures.

As a 2021 study notes, these include non-convulsive seizures, such as focal seizures with or without impaired awareness.

Scientists sometimes divide the progression of Alzheimer’s into three stages.

The first stage is when the disease does not cause any symptoms.

The second stage is when Alzheimer’s causes only mild cognitive impairment. It does not prevent working or socializing.

The final stage is dementia. At this stage, the severity of memory loss and other symptoms translates into significant disability.

According to the 2022 review, seizures can arise during any stage of Alzheimer’s.

However, a 2020 study suggests the risk of seizures increases in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.

The scientific community is unsure about what might explain the association between Alzheimer’s and seizures.

Alzheimer’s disease may increase a person’s susceptibility to having seizures. Alternatively, some predispositions for Alzheimer’s and seizures may have common causes.

It is also quite plausible that both these links exist. Scientists have proposed that the following factors may contribute to the development of both Alzheimer’s and seizures:

  • hippocampal sclerosis
  • changes in GABA receptors
  • neuro-inflammation
  • neurofibrillary tangles
  • dysfunction of the glutamate-glutamine cycle

Research into the Alzheimer’s-seizures link continues.

As a 2022 review explains, the combination of Alzheimer’s and seizures creates some unique healthcare challenges.

For instance, antiepileptic drugs are normally useful in reducing seizure activity. However, these drugs can negatively impact a person’s cognitive capacities, which may already be impaired in people with Alzheimer’s.

Some antiepileptic drugs can interact with other medications, further reducing cognitive capacities. For this reason, doctors will not recommend certain antiepileptic drugs to people with Alzheimer’s.

These drugs include benzodiazepines and valproic acid.

On the other hand, some antiepileptic drugs may improve a person’s ability to think. This is the case with levetiracetam. Other antiepileptic drugs, like brivaracetam, do not seem to impair cognition.

Alzheimer’s can be a very challenging condition to live with. Its symptoms can cause significant impairment and may be highly distressing.

Research shows that people with Alzheimer’s have an exceptionally high risk of recurrent seizures. Since seizures can lower quality of life, recurrent seizures add further challenges to people with Alzheimer’s.

Furthermore, scientists believe seizures are a risk factor for more serious forms of Alzheimer’s.

However, a person with Alzheimer’s and seizures can still live a comfortable life with treatment and support.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about Alzheimer’s and seizures.

Are seizures common in end stage dementia?

Seizures are not very common in end stage Alzheimer’s, although they can happen.

Some research suggests that in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, the risk of seizures is roughly 5%.

What is the incidence of seizures in Alzheimer’s patients?

In people with Alzheimer’s, the chance of seizures ranges between 1.51 and 5.43%.

What are absence seizures in adults with Alzheimer’s?

People with Alzheimer’s do not have absence seizures, unless the person had a preexisting diagnosis of epilepsy with absence seizures.

“Absence epilepsy” is a very specific term. It describes a childhood-onset epilepsy syndrome with specific diagnostic findings.

A person with Alzheimer’s may have focal unaware seizures that look similar to absence seizures but last longer and may present with more confusion.

Scientists have found compelling evidence for a link between Alzheimer’s and seizures. People who are ages 65 or over have a higher risk of epileptic seizures. Seizures are also a risk factor for more serious forms of Alzheimer’s.

People with Alzheimer’s can have both focal and generalized seizures. These include non-convulsive seizures, such as focal aware seizures.

Seizures can arise during any stage of Alzheimer’s, but the risk of seizures increases in the later stages.

Some antiepileptic drugs can impair a person’s cognitive capacities. However, other drugs do not seem to have this effect. In fact, certain antiepileptic drugs could improve the ability to think.