Levetiracetam and people with Alzheimer’s & epilepsy

Published: October 12 2021
Last updated: October 11 2022

Levetiracetam has been found to improve cognitive functions, like learning and memory, in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who also have epileptic brain activity, a study in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology has found.

There are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. Alzheimer’s disease is a particular type of dementia. It affects between half and three-quarters (50-75%) of people with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

According to the study, among people with Alzheimer’s disease, up to around three in five (60%) have seizures or silent epileptic activity in the brain. This means that epileptic activity shows up in tests, but there are no visible signs of a seizure in the person.

Lead study author Dr Keith Vossel called Alzheimer’s disease with epileptic activity an “epileptic variant” of the disease.

The study analysed 34 people with Alzheimer’s disease, of whom two-fifths (40%) had epileptic activity. People were split up into two groups, and received treatment with a dummy medicine or a low dose of levetiracetam for four weeks. This was alongside their current Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Then, the groups had a four-week break and swapped over to receive the opposite treatment.

The researchers assessed people’s abilities to problem solve, reason, remember words and navigate during treatment. People treated with levetiracetam showed a tendency towards improvement in these kinds of skills. People with silent epileptic activity were seen to have a clear benefit of this medicine to their cognitive functions.

The researchers concluded that these findings showed the importance of extended neurology assessments in Alzheimer’s disease patients, to identify people with epileptic activity who may benefit from levetiracetam.

The full study is available on the JAMA Neurology website.