NASHVILLE, Tenn. ― Dementia patients who suffer seizures decline faster and die younger than people with dementia who don’t have seizures, according to a multicenter study being presented at the American Epilepsy Society Annual Meeting.
People with dementia are six to 10 times more likely to develop seizures than people without dementia, and seizures occur in 10% to 64% of those with dementia, research shows. The study found dementia patients who have seizures have more advanced cognitive impairment (problems with thinking, communication, understanding and memory) and worse functional skills, including the ability to perform normal daily activities, such as eating, bathing, dressing and using the bathroom.
“Our hope is that controlling seizures by prescribing antiseizure medications to these patients will slow down the progression of cognitive impairment,” said Ifrah Zawar, M.D., lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville. “Unfortunately, seizures are often underdiagnosed because they can be subtle and the person just seems confused, so family members often mistake them for typical signs of dementia.”
The researchers analyzed data from September 2005 to December 2021 from 39 Alzheimer’s disease research centers. They determined 374 of the 26,425 dementia patients (1.4%) had seizures, and that those patients were significantly younger when cognitive decline began (62.91 vs. 68.4 years old) and died younger (72.99 vs. 79.72 years old). Those who experienced seizures were more likely to have: a genetic mutation related to Alzheimer’s disease; suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury; depression; and/or less education. Compared to dementia patients who didn’t suffer from seizures, those who did performed worse on the mini-mental status exam that measures cognition and were more likely to be dependent on others to provide physical help, such as getting dressed or using the bathroom.
“We know dementia patients are more likely to have seizures, and that people who have seizures are more likely to develop dementia, but it’s still a ‘chicken and egg question’ regarding which one causes the other,” said Dr. Zawar. “It’s important for family members and health care providers to recognize the patients with dementia who are at high
risk for developing seizures, and ensure they are diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion.”