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What is the Connection Between Epilepsy and Memory Loss?

By Sarah Kay Moll
Updated May 17, 2024
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Epilepsy and memory loss can be connected in several ways. Some seizures, especially grand mal seizures, can cause temporary memory loss. Uncontrolled seizures over a period of time can also affect the memory. Sometimes, seizures and memory loss have the same cause, such as a head injury.

Seizures, which are episodes where the brain fires random electrical signals, are typically caused by epilepsy. These seizures can affect only part of the brain or the entire thing. Epilepsy can be treated with anti-convulsant medications, and in some cases, surgery. If the condition is not treated, the seizures may become more frequent and more severe, and lead to more pronounced memory loss.

Generalized tonic-clonic seizures, also called grand mal seizures, affect the entire brain. In this type of seizure, a person will lose consciousness and thrash his limbs about. After a grand mal seizure, the person affected will often forget events surrounding the seizure.

Unlike grand mal seizures, petit mal seizures are characterized by an absence of movement, consciousness, and focus. During this type of seizure, a person will stop what he is doing and stare off into space, unresponsive. These episodes typically only last a few seconds, but the person will not remember the seizure, and sometimes may forget the events surrounding it as well.

Studies show that chronic epilepsy and memory loss often go hand in hand. A study done by the University of Wisconsin showed that rats that suffered from continuous grand mal seizures began to demonstrate abnormalities in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in long term memory and spatial memory. These rats began to suffer memory loss, showing deficits in spatial memory and neuronal loss.

Temporal lobe epilepsy can also be connected to memory loss. A study from the Annals of Neurology followed people with this condition who were treated either medically or with surgery. This study found that chronic temporal lobe epilepsy was correlated with memory loss, but that people who were treated and had their seizures under control were able to return to normal in terms of memory functioning.

Seizures and memory loss can sometimes have the same cause. Head trauma can cause both, depending on the severity of the damage and the area affected. Dementia can also complicate the relationship between epilepsy and memory loss. This is one of several disorders that cause a gradual loss of cognitive functions, including memory. Some types of dementia can also cause seizures.

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