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Seizures Could Be an Early Sign of Alzheimer's Disease

Update Date: Jul 08, 2013 03:59 PM EDT

Seizures in old age may be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that patients with epilepsy who had amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) or Alzheimer disease (AD) experienced earlier cognitive decline than patients who did not have epilepsy.

Previous studies reveal that Alzheimer's disease increases a patient's risk of seizures, and patients with the neurodegenerative disease and seizure disorders have greater cognitive impairment, more rapid progression of symptoms and more severe neuronal loss at autopsy than those without seizures.

"Epileptic activity associated with Alzheimer disease (AD) deserves increased attention because it has a harmful impact on these patients, can easily go unrecognized and untreated and may reflect pathogenic processes that also contribute to other aspects of the illness," researchers wrote in the study.

Lead researcher Dr. Keith A. Vossel, of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, San Francisco, Calif., and colleagues, studied 54 patients. Researchers said 12 patients had a diagnosis of amnestic mild cognitive impairment plus epilepsy, 35 patients were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy and seven patients were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and subclinical epileptiform activity.

The findings revealed that patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment who had epilepsy experienced cognitive decline 6.8 years earlier than patients with aMCI who did not have epilepsy. Patients with Alzheimer's disease who had epilepsy experienced cognitive decline 5.5 years earlier than patients with AD who did not have epilepsy, according to the study.

"Careful identification and treatment of epilepsy in such patients may improve their clinical course," researchers concluded.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

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