For years, scientists who study Alzheimer's disease have acknowledged an increase in seizures in patients but didn't focus much attention on them. That's changing.
New information on the frequency and timing of seizures may give researchers more insight into how the disease can progress.
Scott and Susie Plakon had what Scott Plakon calls a fairytale marriage. But after three decades and six children, the Plakons were dealt a crushing blow.
Doctors diagnosed Susie with Alzheimer's. She was only 53.
"For several months I couldn't even tell my kids that they were likely going to lose their mom in three to five years, because Alzheimer's is fatal 100% of the time," Plakon said.
Plakon is a Florida state representative. He scaled back his legislative duties to care for Susie until her death in 2018.
He says he initially had no idea what Susie would face, including sudden, dangerous falls.
"I found her laying on her side in a seizure state with a pool of blood about this big coming from her head, and I didn't know what it was," he recalled.
"What can happen in the patients with Alzheimer's disease is essentially a change in the structure of their brain," Advent Health Maturing Minds Clinic director Dr. Rosemary Laird said.
Those brain and nerve cell changes can lead to seizures.
But new research shows seizures are happening years before the first signs of dementia. A study of 300,000 U.S. veterans over the age of 55 showed seizures were associated with twice the risk for developing dementia between one and nine years later.
Laird was not involved in the newest research but says at the very least clinicians need to carefully treat seizures and prepare caregivers.
"If the seizures are active enough and disruptive enough or put them at risk to get hurt, you have to kind of prioritize to that," she said.
Plakon says every scientific finding may bring doctors closer to new treatments and, someday, a cure.
"That's what I'm looking forward to, that day," he said.
Plakon continues to honor his late wife by advocating for Alzheimer's research and working to improve public awareness.
TOPIC: SEIZURES YEARS BEFORE ALZHEIMER'S?
REPORT: MB #4692
BACKGROUND: Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills. Some symptoms are memory loss, making poor choices, not being able to complete everyday tasks anymore, and showing depressed behavior. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there are medications that temporarily improve symptoms or slow the rate of decline. These treatments can sometimes help maximize function and maintain independence for a period. If the disease progresses and the brain's inability to function lead to dehydration, malnutrition or infection, it could result in death. (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447 )
DIAGNOSING: Part of diagnosing Alzheimer's requires an accounting of the symptoms of the person or from a family member or close friend. Doctors run a physical to measure the person's reflexes, muscles, sight and hearing, and balance and coordination. A blood test may be ordered to simply rule out other potential causes of memory loss, such as vitamin deficiencies and thyroid disorder. Finally, brain scans, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT,) may be run to rule out other head injuries. (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350453)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Recent studies have shown that seizures may be an early indicator for Alzheimer's disease and precede early signs of memory loss. When there is a change in a brain's structure, the electrical activity that normally flows through the tissue surface gets excited. If someone has Alzheimer's, the tissue will degenerate and electrical waves are disrupted, which may develop a kink that becomes a seizure. Rosemary Laird, M.D., Geriatrician with the Advent Health Medical Group, says caregivers should watch for seizure triggers for those affected and that they should help the person stay safe during the seizure. Another suggestion is to make sure patients are taking their medications on time.