The incidence of epilepsy is on the rise among baby boomers, the fastest-growing segment of society. Epilepsy is most common after age 65 as we become increasingly susceptible to conditions that trigger seizures.
Strokes: Most common trigger
In 80 percent of cases, strokes are the cause of adult-onset seizures. Brain tumors, head injuries and Alzheimer’s disease are other causes. Often the cause of mature-onset epilepsy is unknown.
But no matter the cause, special attention is required.
“In the medical community, our focus is on keeping seniors with epilepsy as active as possible, particularly since today’s elderly are very involved in their communities and expect more from their lifestyles,” says Elaine Wyllie, MD. Dr. Wyllie is a specialist in the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute’s Epilepsy Center.
4 issues to address after age 65
1. Medication side effects
The margin between an effective dose and a toxic dose of epilepsy medication is smaller as we age. We become more sensitive to dose-related side effects such as those involving balance, coordination, mood, alertness, clarity of thought and mobility. A physician may need to fine-tune dosages.
2. Possible drug interactions
The risk of complications from combining medications is higher when people are already taking medications for chronic conditions. The possibility of drug interactions will affect a neurologist’s choice of epilepsy medication and the dosing strategy.
3. Reporting of seizures
It may be difficult to get an accurate picture of the number of seizures an elderly person has if he or she spends lots of time alone. More frequent observation and communication with your elderly loved one may be needed to report seizures accurately.
4. Safety and independence
Seizures can threaten to compromise quality of life. Lost driving privileges can be a real blow to independence when you’re in your 60s or 70s. If a loved one is having difficulty adjusting to their new epilepsy diagnosis, a talk with the doctor is warranted. Potential solutions include transportation services or social workers linked to senior centers.
Seek expert help
A physician with experience in treating adult-onset epilepsy is best able to help resolve these issues. The physician should know all of the medications, vitamins and supplements that your loved one is taking.
Developing seizures late in life needn’t dictate how well your loved one lives.