People over 60¹ have a higher incidence of epilepsy than any other age, making up about one-quarter of new-onset epilepsy cases.
But it's not just epilepsy. The incidence of any kind of seizure increases as people mature beyond 60, meaning it is especially important to look after your and your loved ones' health at this age.
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Epilepsy can develop at any stage of life. It is more common in older adults due to the increased risk factors in the elderly population. These include:
Diseases that impact brain function
Anyone that experiences any of the above conditions may have a greater risk of developing epilepsy, so always monitor yourself and your loved ones after experiencing any of the listed risk factors.
In older people, determining whether symptoms of epilepsy, like seizures and fainting, are actually epilepsy can be difficult. That's because the symptoms of epilepsy are quite similar to many symptoms of other age-related conditions.
When someone experiences memory loss, confusion falls, and dizziness, it's common to think this is just what comes with getting old. For this reason, epilepsy can often go undiagnosed. But these symptoms are some of the most telling of epilepsy in older people.
While it's easy to think an epileptic seizure involves a major collapse, shaking, and sudden unusual movements, seizures do not always look this dramatic. Not all epileptic seizures have these presentations. They can be much more subtle. Some key characteristics of a person experiencing an epileptic seizure include:
Staring into space
Making unusual movements
Failing to answer questions
If you or your loved one experience these symptoms regularly, it could be a sign of epilepsy.
If you are at all worried, visit a doctor. It is better to be safe and seek medical help when you start feeling concerned.
Many tests can determine if the symptoms you or your loved one are experiencing are epileptic. Usually, it is best to combine techniques like:
Observations from friends, family, and carers
Analyzing medical history and examination
Conducting medical tests, such as blood tests, an EEG (electroencephalogram), a CT scan (computed tomography), and an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging)
The symptoms of epilepsy can be difficult for the elderly to manage, especially if they are isolated. For example, getting dizzy spells can be more dangerous for the elderly. Even a slight fall can have consequences like broken bones, as many older people suffer from brittle bones.
It's important to look out for elderly loved ones with epilepsy because the symptoms can easily impact everyday activities. Eight in every ten adults aged 65² or older have more than one chronic health condition. This might make it harder to manage epilepsy as medications used for treating one health problem may interfere with those used for epilepsy.
In addition to that, medication for epilepsy can induce dizziness and even result in weak bones/osteoporosis.
Epilepsy can affect daily life in other ways. For example, people with epilepsy may have legal restrictions imposed on their driver’s licenses depending on how well-controlled their seizures are. For elderly people living alone, this can feel isolating and make daily tasks like grocery shopping difficult.
Always make sure to check in with loved ones to make sure they have everything they need. It can be helpful to offer assistance, like driving your loved one to help them complete errands.
If you or a loved one is living with epilepsy, here are some useful tips for managing the condition and adhering to medication. Remember that it’s important to follow the medication regime set out by your health professional.
It's always helpful to have a support network around you, especially if they are going through similar experiences.
Make a plan with loved ones about how to respond in an emergency. You could create a dedicated place for medication, write down phone numbers of doctors who understand you or your loved one’s condition, and give out helpful tips for managing an epileptic seizure.
It can also be helpful to read up on recent studies about care for people with epilepsy, especially seniors. This can help keep you or your loved ones informed about the condition and prepare you for managing epilepsy long-term.
There are also free online first aid courses specifically designed for epileptic seizures. These can help you or your loved one become certified in seizure first aid.
In addition to many anti-seizure medications, diet changes and surgery are also worth considering. Some simple lifestyle changes can prove effective when managing epilepsy in patients of any age. More information on these forms of treatment and management can be provided by your doctor, as they will know what treatment methods will suit your specific needs.
It can be distressing to witness someone having an epileptic seizure. But if you are familiar with some basic aspects of first aid and know the signs of epilepsy, you could be of great help.
Support your loved ones by clearing the space around them if they start to have an epileptic seizure. Gently assisting someone having an epileptic seizure to the ground will help prevent them from causing injury to themselves. The last thing they want is a gathering crowd, which may only increase their stress.
Try to create a calm environment with few distractions or disturbances. Usually, seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes, and you should stay with the person having the seizure.
Use your knowledge from an epilepsy first aid class. The US Epilepsy Foundation³ has plenty of information on epilepsy first aid. The CDC also has a seizure first aid guide.
Epilepsy is a difficult condition for anyone to live with. It requires planning and care, and it's okay to feel overwhelmed by the daily challenges epilepsy can bring to life. It's especially difficult for the elderly, who may go undiagnosed due to the similarities in the symptoms between some common age-related conditions and epilepsy.
There are many ways you can help an elderly loved one with epilepsy, including taking a first aid course specifically designed to help equip carers with the knowledge they need to look after older adults with epilepsy.
Supporting older patients with chronic conditions | National Institute of Aging
Seizure first aid training and certification | Epilepsy Foundation