When people in their sixties, seventies, or eighties experience unusual feelings — lost time, suspended awareness, confusion, seizures — they may think their symptoms are caused by some of the physical or mental problems that sometimes accompany aging. But there may be another explanation for what is happening: they may have become one of the 300,000 American senior citizens with epilepsy. For a long time epilepsy has been seen as a condition that affects young people, often starting in early childhood; sometimes lasting throughout life. But now we know it can affect anyone at any age. In fact, a careful look at the statistics shows us that it’s as likely to begin in the sixties, seventies and eighties as it is during the first ten years of life. Having epilepsy at any time of life takes some getting used to. People want to find out about the disorder, how it’s treated, and what kinds of changes it may make in their lives.
Currently affects about 300,000 seniors nationwide; most rapidly growing population group with epilepsy.
Causes include after-effects of stroke, tumor, or cardiovascular events.
Poses more difficult problems in treatment because of age-related issues and use of other medications.
Increases risk of falls, broken bones, loss of independence.
Epilepsy is a functional disorder of the brain, a kind of occasional glitch in the amazing electrical system which controls everything we feel and do. These brief malfunctions (which are called seizures) may temporarily block awareness. They can also cause uncontrollable shaking, convulsions, confusion, or affect the senses.
Anyone at any age can have a seizure if the brain is stressed sufficiently by injury or disease. A single seizure isn’t epilepsy, although the symptoms are the same. Epilepsy is the name given to seizures that occur more than once because of an underlying condition in the brain.
Living With Epilepsy
Although there are always exceptions, senior citizens with epilepsy who are otherwise in good health and whose mental abilities are unaffected can usually continue to live independently. Families may find this idea difficult to accept. With the best of intentions, they often become overprotective, making an older relative more dependent than is necessary. Find out more about living with epilepsy, including information on living independently, physical changes, safety and driving.
Seizure causes are identifiable for about 50 percent of seniors, but just as in younger people, the types of seizures vary. Treatment in seniors, often made more difficult because of age-related issues and other medications, varies, although medication and surgery are the most common forms of treatment.