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Epilepsy in the Elderly

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Epilepsy (or seizure disorder) is a brain disorder that can be characterized by the unpredictable seizures. It is the fourth most common neurological disorder that affects people of all ages, which also affects nearly 1 million US adults aged 55 or above. Despite the high number of Epilepsy patients,. almost half of the seniors who are diagnosed with epilepsy do not know the root cause. This unique scenario can be attributed to having no known causes of epilepsy. However, there are some common risk factors like strokes, brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and the presence of brain tumors.

Symptoms

Symptoms of epilepsy are much more difficult to detect and easily overlooked, as the symptoms can include memory problems and falls that might be misattributed to old age. Although some commonly believed notions of epilepsy may include dramatic scenes of people falling and twitching, these are not the most common symptoms. More common symptoms of seizures may include:

  • Seeming confused
  • Staring into blank spaces
  • Random wandering
  • Abnormal movements
  • Inability to answer or speak 

If these symptoms occur often in an individual, it may be signs of a seizure, or even epilepsy. In these cases, it is important to bring them to a health care provider. Most seniors with epilepsy are prescribed the proper medication to mitigate their symptoms, which allows them to perform daily tasks normally without being impaired by seizures.

 Most seizures do not require medical attention except for a few exceptions. These exceptions include:

  • Sudden onset of seizures without prior history
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizure exceeds more than five minutes
  • Back-to-back seizures
  • Seizures results in a fall causing bodily harm
  • Seizure occurs while in a body of water
  • Pre-existing health condition like heart disease or diabetes.

 If one of these signs above are shown, call 911 as they would require medical care.

How can you help?

When it comes to attending to seniors who are suffering from epilepsy, there are some things you can do to help:

  1. Remain with them until the seizure subsides or they are fully awake. 
  2. Help them move to a safe place. 
  3. Once they wake up, inform them about the situation in simple terms.
  4. Comfort them to ensure they remain calm
  5. Check if they are wearing a medical bracelet or emergency information
  6. Ensure they are calm and not panicking
  7. Ensure they have a means of returning home safely (personal vehicle, taxi, etc.)

Avoid the following:

  • Restraining the individual against their will
  • Putting anything into their mouth, which can cause teeth/jaw injury. 
  • Attempt to give mouth to mouth breathing, as breathing function should return to normal once the seizure subsides
  • Offering food before the individual is fully alert.

Treatment

In general, epilepsy is incurable and can only be controlled by Anti-Epileptic Drugs (or AEDs). Thus, treating epilepsy should be seen as a long-term management of seizures. Managing epilepsy can be done through visiting a neurologist, or a pediatrician or pediatric neurologist, they would be able to discuss treatment options that would help you or your loved ones. 

In most cases, AEDs are prescribed, or another type of drug that factors in the severity and the type of seizure. If the AEDs are unable to control the seizures, there are other options that can work alongside AEDs. A ketogenic diet which is a high fat, low carbohydrate, controlled protein diet that may help to control seizures. However, it should be only used when two or more medications have not been useful. Also, the ketogenic diet is very specialized, so it is important to for it to be carried out under the care, supervision and guidance of trained medical specialist. To learn more about epilepsy, consult your family physician or find an epilepsy specialist at the epilepsy foundation website

 


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