Are my father's seizures related to his Alzheimer's?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 2003. He is now 58 years old and is suffering from seizures. Is this common with Alzheimer's? What could the seizures mean?

Expert Answer

James Castle, M.D. is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem (affiliated with The University of Chicago) and an expert on strokes.

Seizures are, unfortunately, fairly common in Alzheimer's patients. Seizures can be thought of as small "short-circuits" in the electrical brain activity. They almost always start on the outer surface of the brain.

In Alzheimer's, as the surface of the brain has some scarring, and is not working as well as it should, this short circuiting can occur. This would be somewhat similar to having small fires in the electrical system of an older house - the wiring is not in perfect order and a short circuit can occur. These seizures are usually well treated with gentle seizure medicines. I particularly like lamotrigine, as I have found that it has the least side effects in a patient with a dementing illness, but of course you should discuss this with your doctor.

As an additional issue, given that he is so young, it would probably be worth while to make sure that he has had a very thorough work-up before accepting Alzheimer's as the diagnosis. I would err on the side of being overly cautious, and consider obtaining a second opinion from a Cognitive Specialist (Neurologist) at a nearby university.