Seniors & Epilepsy

Seniors & Epilepsy

Epilepsy can affect people at any age. During November’s National Epilepsy Month it is a time to raise awareness about this illness, which affects about 300,000 seniors in the United States. Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological disorder and it is characterized by unpredictable seizures, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

A person can have a seizure and not even realize it, yet they might feel symptoms such as confusion or memory loss. Many common diseases or chronic conditions can increase someone’s risk for epilepsy. These include Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and more. Epilepsy is more common in people over 60 than in children. In order to be diagnosed with epilepsy, there needs to be documentation of at least two unprovoked seizures

Old v. Young

An epileptologist from University Hospital explained that epilepsy in older adults is “commonly misdiagnosed (on average for 18 months after the first onset of seizures.” The reasons, he explained, for this are:

  1. Doctors are looking for “seizure activity” (ie. convulsive) when most seizures in the elderly are complex partial seizures.
  2. Since atherosclerosis is systemic, many doctors focus immediately on heart/cardia issues only. In addition, many elderly patients have already had heart issues so this is the main focus rather than thinking something like passing out could be seizure-related.

Older people may also have more trouble with epilepsy medication side effects than younger people. “Standard doses of medications are different in the elderly,” he said. “In other words, they do not need as high doses for the medicine to be effective. Older adults do not clear meds out of their bodies as efficiently as their younger counterparts.”

Since older people might also be taking multiple medications there is a greater chance for drug-to-drug interactions to occur.

Know What to Look For

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of a seizure disorder include:

  • a feeling of confusion in a familiar place
  • loss of consciousness
  • uncontrollable jerking movements of the limbs
  • unusual repetitive behaviors such as chewing, hand rubbing, swallowing or walking in circles

There are many different types of seizures as well: general, focal, partial, and others.

While there can be a genetic factor for epilepsy, the causes are not always clear. Everything from head trauma to an infectious disease can cause epilepsy. Whatever the cause, a seizure can lead to life-threatening concerns such as falling or getting in a car accident. Epilepsy can affect a person’s ability to live independently.

To learn more about epilepsy, visit the Epilepsy Foundation website or the Mayo Clinic website for information about diagnoses, treatment and medications. 

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