Cognitive Decline May Come Earlier for People With Epilepsy

TUESDAY, Dec. 5, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- People with epilepsy suffer quicker declines in thinking than people without the brain disorder, particularly if they also have risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes, a new study finds.

The difference was significant: Over the course of the 14-year study, those with epilepsy experienced a 65% to 70% faster decline in memory and thinking skills.

On top of that, having risk factors for heart disease pushed that percentage 20% higher.

“While epilepsy itself is associated with [mild cognitive impairment] and dementia, this risk is substantially magnified in those who also have high blood pressure, diabetes or other cardiovascular risk factors,” said lead researcher Dr. Ifrah Zawar, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Researchers said their study is unique because it tracked the transition to mild cognitive impairment and dementia in more than 13,700 people who started the study with healthy brains.

The participants were recruited at 39 Alzheimer’s disease centers across the United States between September 2005 and December 2021. Fewer than 1% had epilepsy, researchers said.

The rate of decline from mild cognitive impairment to dementia was the same in patients with or without epilepsy. The researchers speculate that’s probably because heart risk factors play a much bigger role than epilepsy in the later stages of dementia.

The findings were presented Friday at the American Epilepsy Society annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It is important to identify epilepsy promptly and treat it aggressively, to help slow or prevent this decline in older adults who are cognitively healthy,” Zawar said in a meeting news release. “In addition, early screening and targeted interventions towards modifiable cardiovascular risk factors may also help delay the onset of dementia.”

More information

The Alzheimer’s Society has more about seizures and dementia.

SOURCE: American Epilepsy Society, news release, Dec. 1, 2023

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