What are the causes of seizures in the elderly?

Updated March 23, 2017

There are several different types of seizures that may affect the elderly. Tonic-clonic, or grand mal, seizures involve loss of consciousness and jerking of the extremities. Myoclonic seizures involve brief muscle contractions that may be confused with tics. Petit mal seizures occur less common in the elderly and involve a very brief loss of consciousness, often lasting only a few seconds.


When people have unprovoked seizures, or seizures with no known causes, doctors diagnose epilepsy. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, about 300,000 seniors currently suffer from epilepsy, and the number of seniors with the condition continues to grow.

Alzheimer's Disease

Doctor's believe that Alzheimer's disease results from by plaques in a person's brain, although they aren't sure what causes those plaques to develop. A number of Alzheimer's patients also experience seizures, which may result from those same plaques.


According to, 10 to 15 per cent of stroke survivors develop a seizure disorder following their stroke. The Stroke Center reports that about 75 per cent of stroke survivors are over the age of 65, so this becomes a serious concern for the elderly and their caregivers.


A number of common medications can cause seizures in some patients, including antipsychotics, antidepressants, insulin, tramadol (a pain killer), and Demerol (another pain killer). Withdrawal from certain medications, such as sedatives, can also cause seizures.

Other Causes

While epilepsy, Alzehimer's disease, stroke, and medications remain the most common causes of seizures in the elderly, other things do sometimes cause seizures in senior citizens. Other causes of seizures include endocrine disorders, fever, heat stroke, electrolyte imbalances, infections of the central nervous system (like meningitis), and brain tumours.

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About the Author

Mike Andrews is a freelance writer and serial entrepreneur focused on small-business and entrepreneurship for average people. He holds a bachelor's degree in biblical studies and a master's degree in theology and has appeared in a wide array of print and online periodicals including "HiCall," "Mature Living" and "Caregivers Home Companion."