Seizures in Later Life
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.
Epilepsy in the Elderly
- 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.
Talk With Other Seniors
Our online discussion forum, eCommunities, features a special section for seniors with epilepsy. It's easy and free of charge to join, and you can connect with other people throughout the world to talk about experiences and share information.
Points to Remember
Although partial seizures affect different physical, emotional, or sensory functions of the brain, they have some things in common:
They don't last long. Most last only a minute or two, although older people may be confused and need a lot more time afterwards to recover fully.
They end naturally. Except in rare cases, the brain has its own way of bringing the seizure safely to an end after a minute or two.
You can't stop them. In an emergency, doctors may use drugs to bring a lengthy, non-stop seizure to an end. However, the average person should wait for the seizure to run its course and try to protect the person from harm while consciousness is clouded.
People don't feel pain during the seizure, although their muscles may be sore afterwards.
Seizures are usually not life-threatening, although in senior citizens the extra strain on the heart, the possibility of injury and the reduced intake of oxygen may increase the risk.
They are not dangerous to others. The movements produced by a seizure are almost always too vague, too unorganized and too confused to threaten the safety of anyone else.