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Older people and epilepsy

Growing old has many challenges: growing old with a diagnosis of epilepsy is a challenge in itself. Yet epilepsy is a challenge that can be managed. Coming to terms with a diagnosis of epilepsy, accepting you have seizures and having to take regular medication to control them can at first seem overwhelming. Added to this are the possible restrictions or adjustments you may need to make to daily living. Your fear of injury, your anxiety with having a seizure in public and your concern with the time taken to recover from a seizure, may result in confusion, social isolation and loss of independence. Understanding your epilepsy and sharing your diagnosis with family members, friends and concerned others will help you overcome these concerns and help preserve your quality of life.

You are not alone. People over 65 years experience the highest incidence of first seizures apart from children under 5 years. A common cause of epilepsy in the elderly is stroke while other possible causes are head injuries, infection, alcoholism, tumours and dementia. As happens with other age groups, some older people develop epilepsy without a known cause. Diagnosing epilepsy in older people can be difficult and some people will have had seizure activity for years before a correct diagnosis is made. If your partner or a family member or friend has observed certain events, their recollection and description of what has occurred can prove invaluable to your doctor’s diagnosis.

Your seizures can be controlled by antiepileptic medication and that medication does not cause cumulative damage. While the aim of treatment is to control seizures with minimum adverse side effects, current research and clinical experience indicate that some older people may experience more undesirable side effects such as unsteadiness when walking, or fatigue. Your doctor will guide you through this initial stage of choosing the right medication for you. Most problems can usually be avoided with the range of medications now available. Over 70% of older people diagnosed with epilepsy will achieve complete seizure control on appropriate antiepileptic medication.

A diagnosis of epilepsy can impact on your life in many ways. If you are the driver in your household not being allowed to drive until your seizures are under control may mean that for a short time two people become housebound. This is the time that family and friends can help or you start to get to know your local taxi driver or seek out your local community support services. Your Epilepsy Australia affiliate will be able to advise you of available transport support in your geographical location. You may decide that it is time to give up your licence anyway and have planned for that eventuality.

You may also experience a loss of confidence after a fall and your fear of further falls may stop you from enjoying life as you should. This is understandable but it will pass. As your seizures become controlled your confidence will return. A healthy lifestyle can also help you control your seizures. By getting adequate sleep having a good diet, controlling the stress in your life, limiting your intake of alcohol, and getting plenty of exercise you can improve your seizure control and general well-being. For more information about healthy living strategies contact your epilepsy association.

Safety in the home is an important issue for everyone. A home visit by an occupational therapist can advise you on the necessary safety precautions relevant to your seizure type and frequency. Your epilepsy counsellor will also be able to suggest practical ways to help make your surroundings as safe as possible. If you live alone you may wish to consider wearing a personal alarm which is connected via telephone to a monitoring centre. You can set off the alarm intentionally if you need emergency help, or the alarm will activate itself if you have a fall. A person will call you back immediately to see what is the matter. If you do not respond an ambulance is despatched. The are several products on the market all operating in much the same way. They can provide peace of mind for those living alone and for family who worry about you. Similarly, wearing a ‘medicalert’ bracelet or pendant, can alert people to the fact that you have epilepsy should a seizure occur while you are out.

At times it may be difficult to remember if you have taken your medication as prescribed. Dosette boxes have separate compartments to place all the tablets required for a week or a day. A glance at the dispenser will reassure you that no dose has been missed. People who are unable to manage their own medication may find it helpful to have the dosette box packed weekly by a professional. Dosette boxes are available through most pharmacies and some discount shops.

Yes, epilepsy can be challenging but by accepting that challenge and being positive about it, life will still be fulfilling for you.

EMAIL epilepsy@epilepsy.asn.au    818 Burke Rd, Camberwell Victoria  3124  Australia
PHONE (03) 9805 9111    TOLL FREE 1300 852 853    FAX (03) 9882 7159

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North East Valley Division General Practice, Victoria, Australia, Disclaimer 
Level 1, Pathology Building, Repatriation Campus, A&RMC, Heidelberg West VIC 3081. .. map
Phone: 03 9496 4333, Fax: 03 9496 4349,  Email: nevdgp@nevdgp.org.au
Please note: NEVDGP does not provide an on-line consultation
Last modified: September 04, 2006