For Seniors




Photosensitivity and seizures

If you are a senior citizen, you can probably remember a time when there were no reliable treatments for epilepsy. People did not understand why seizures happened and they were afraid of them. You may remember, as a child, that families often sent people with seizures off to institutions, or kept them at home, isolated from others. And you may have heard it whispered (incorrectly) that epilepsy is a form of mental illness. Find out more about how perceptions have changed.

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.

Seizures, Fevers, and Other Conditions

Febrile (fever-caused) seizures affect many children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years. Febrile seizures are not the same as epilepsy, although in rare cases they may be the first seizures experienced by a child who develops epilepsy later on. Febrile seizures occur when a child’s temperature rises rapidly, usually to 102 degrees or higher. There is often a family history of febrile seizures; they are most common around 18 months of age and affect between 3 and 4 percent of all children. Thirty to 40 percent of children who have a febrile seizure will have another one, but most children grow out of the tendency as they grow older. About 3 percent of children with febrile seizures go on to develop epilepsy. In children with epilepsy, fever (as well as some drugs, medications and sleep deprivation) may trigger seizures. Having a seizure is a sign of an underlying condition in the brain. In many cases it is the only sign of a brain disorder. In other cases it may be just one of many symptoms. Common brain conditions that may also be associated with seizures include tuberous sclerosis, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and neurofibromatosis. Epilepsy associated with other brain disorders is usually treated in the same way as epilepsy from an unknown cause.

Epilepsy in later life

Currently, epilepsy affects about 300,000 seniors nationwide; most rapidly growing population group with epilepsy. Causes include after-effects of stroke, tumor, or cardiovascular events. Epilepsy in the eldery 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.

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.

Emergency First-Aid

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, a seizure in a child with epilepsy that ends after a couple of minutes does not usually require a trip to the emergency room. However, if it lasts more than 5 minutes without any sign of slowing down, is unusual in some way, or if a child has trouble breathing afterwards, appears to be injured or in pain, or recovery is different from usual, call 911 for emergency help. It is always a good idea to discuss with your doctor in advance what to do if your child should have a prolonged seizure.