While one in every 220 children are diagnosed annually, a more surprising statistic is that one in every four older adults in the UK, aged 65 and over, are newly diagnosed with epilepsy each year. Across the globe, these numbers are alarmingly high for those aged 65-69 years with the most recent estimate of annual cases of epilepsy and seizures is 85 per 100,000 individuals.
What Are The Causes Of Epilepsy in Elderly Adults?
New-onset epilepsy in elderly patients is mainly the consequence of accumulated injuries to the brain and other secondary factors such as a stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, tumours, and traumatic brain injuries. However, the cause is not always established.
How to Know if it's Epilepsy in Elderly Adults?
It isn't always easy to determine if someone in your care has epilepsy as many of the symptoms can go unnoticed. For example, a fall, dizziness or short term memory loss may be current symptoms of another medical condition that they occupy, or in some cases, they are perceived as 'signs of old age'.
To determine if an elderly person has new-onset epilepsy, the following symptoms can be monitored:
- Confusion or memory loss that is irregular.
- Shaking or limb jerking
- Staring into space
- Cannot communicate (answer questions or communicate well with you)
If you notice these symptoms often occurring and in a similar pattern, this could a sign of seizure activity. At this stage, you should talk to your medical professional for support. Ensure that you document all seizures and symptoms when they take place including the length of time it occurs as this will help your doctor to diagnose the person accurately.
Supporting Elderly Adults With Epilepsy
Managing Medication: Did you know that 8 in 10 adults aged 65 or older have more than one chronic health condition? The result of developing epilepsy later on in life can have an impact on their personal life, especially when it comes to balancing medications. Getting the right balance may take months up to a year with many medications causing mild side effects. To support a newly diagnosed elderly adult, you can monitor their side effects while keeping in close contact with the doctor to ensure the balance of medications runs smooth as possible.
Increased Risk of Falling: Many epilepsy medicines have side effects such as bone loss or dizziness. These side effects can result in injuries from falling or banging into objects. To provide safety within the home, you can clear all walkways, place all food, cutlery and other daily household items at arms reach, including bedside lights and also grab rails which can be fitted into bathrooms to help the person in and out of the bath/shower.
Loss of Independence: Epilepsy can limit a person's ability to drive or reduce their independence within the home if they live alone. After a lifetime of being independent, losing the ability to drive or take care of themselves can be especially hard for older adults. In this situation, support can be tough as they may not want your help and feel that they don't need it. Discussing their newly diagnosed condition, their symptoms and risk, including how you would like to provide support can offer them the independence to choose how you both work together to deal with the new condition.
Dealing with the condition alone can be worrying. Be sure to contact your local doctor and find support groups online to help you find methods of working with your loved one or person of care.
For more information on how you can support a loved one or someone with your care with new-onset epilepsy, go to the CDC website.