Senior couple with doctor

Page Summary

  • Things that cause seizures in older people are more likely to be related directly to physical changes associated with aging.
  • Stroke is the most frequent cause of seizures that begin in later life.
  • Other causes of seizures in older people are discussed.

Half the time there's no obvious reason why an older person begins to have seizures.

Causes in younger people include severe injury to the brain from accidents or other trauma; problems with brain development before birth; the after-effects of serious brain infections, like encephalitis or meningitis; certain genetic conditions; or changes in metabolism which prevent important nutrients from getting to the brain.

Things that cause seizures in older people, however, are more likely to be related directly to physical changes associated with aging.

Man Thinking

Stroke is the most frequent cause of seizures that begin in later life. As people age, arteries may become narrowed or clogged, depriving parts of the brain of blood and oxygen. The resulting damage may produce seizures. Bleeding in the brain, which is another form of stroke, may also leave a person with seizures afterwards.

Heart attacks may temporarily cut off oxygen to the brain, with a similar result.

Disease. Alzheimer's disease, or other brain diseases that change the internal structure of the brain, may cause seizures. Complications of kidney disease, liver disease, alcoholism and even diabetes may make people more likely to have seizures in later life.

Brain tumors of any kind may cause seizures. If an operation is done to remove the tumor, the seizures may stop.

Surgery. Occasionally an operation on the brain leaves a scar that causes seizures later on.

It is also possible that epilepsy in a senior citizen marks the return of a seizure disorder that was in remission, or it may be the continuation of a life-long problem.

Even if someone has had epilepsy for a long time, it's still a good idea to have the treatment reviewed by the doctor once that person becomes sixty-five or seventy.

Epilepsy in seniors may be caused by many conditions that affect the brain, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Head injuries from falls
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Heart disease
  • Previous brain surgery
  • Infections affecting the brain
  • High blood pressure
  • Brain tumors
  • Alzheimer’s/dementia

 

Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 3/2014
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