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Causes Signs and Symptoms of Epilepsy in Elderly People

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms
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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behaviour.

There are around 600,000 people in the UK living with epilepsy, and it’s a condition that can come on at any time through your life. However, it is very common in senior citizens and is something you should consider if you are an elderly person.

Causes of epilepsy

Epilepsy is characterised by electrical signals in the brain getting scrambled and causing unusual brain activity.

Epilepsy may be caused by a variety of factors, including brain injuries, genetic disorders, developmental abnormalities, infections, and use of certain drugs. However, in around 50% of cases, there is no identifiable cause.

There is some evidence that, in some cases epilepsy is partly down to your genes, as around one third of those with the condition also have a family member who has epilepsy.

Epilepsy can also come about after an injury, infection or bleeding in the brain.

Symptoms of epilepsy

One of the most common symptoms of epilepsy is seizures.

There are two main types of seizures: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures affect the entire brain, while partial seizures begin in just one area.

Simple partial seizure

When someone has a simple partial seizure, they stay awake and aware but may experience odd sensations such as

  • A rising feeling in the stomach – like you’d feel on a rollercoaster
  • Tingling in arms or legs
  • A sense of Deja-vu
  • Intense feelings of sorrow or joy
  • Stiffness or twitching
  • Sensing unusual smells or tastes in the mouth
  • A generally odd feeling that’s difficult to explain

Partial seizures are sometimes defined as “warnings” or “auras” as they often denote that another, more serious type of seizure is coming.

Complex partial seizures

Complex partial seizures are the second most common type of seizure. Complex partial seizures involve a change in consciousness and may also include motor symptoms such as repetitive motions or jerking movements. These types of seizures usually last for a few seconds to a minute

Some actions that someone may take when having a complex partial seizure include:

  • Lip smacking
  • Rubbing hands together
  • Making random noises
  • Jerking arms or legs
  • Chewing or swallowing unnecessarily

If someone suffers a complex partial seizure, they will be unaware throughout the seizure and therefore unable to respond to someone, and unlikely to have any memory of the seizure.

Complex partial seizures can be disruptive and may make it difficult to perform daily activities. However, they are usually not dangerous. Treatment for complex partial seizures usually involves medication.

Absence seizures

Absence seizures, formerly known as petit mal seizures, are a type of seizure that can occur in people with epilepsy.

Absence seizures are characterized by a brief loss of consciousness and can last for a few seconds to a minute. During an absence seizure, the person may stare blankly into space and be unresponsive to their surroundings. These seizures usually don't involve convulsions or falling down, although the person is unlikely to remember them.

Absence seizures are most common in children, but they can occur in adults as well. If you have absence seizures, you may not be aware of them because they happen so quickly. However, they can disrupt your daily life and make it difficult to concentrate or learn new information.

Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic seizures are characterized by brief muscle jerks or spasms. Myoclonic seizures can occur in isolation or as part of another type of seizure. They often happen in clusters, which means you may have several myoclonic seizures in a row. Myoclonic seizures usually last for a few seconds and don't involve a loss of consciousness.

Tonic Clonic Seizures

Tonic clonic seizures, formerly known as grand mal seizures, are the most common type of seizure, and are the type of seizure most people think of when they think of epilepsy.

Tonic clonic seizures involve a loss of consciousness and muscle rigidity followed by jerking movements. These types of seizures can last for a few seconds to several minutes.

Tonic clonic seizures can be frightening to witness, but they usually don't cause long-term damage. However, they can be dangerous if someone is in the wrong environment – for example if they are driving, or somewhere unsafe.

Status epilepticus

Status epilepticus is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Status epilepticus is defined as a seizure that lasts for more than five minutes or a series of seizures that occur without the person regaining consciousness in between. Status epilepticus can be life-threatening and can cause brain damage. Treatment for status epilepticus usually involves medication and may also require hospitalization.

How epilepsy is diagnosed

A diagnosis of epilepsy is usually made based on a combination of factors, including:

Medical history. Your doctor will ask about your health history, including any previous episodes of seizures.

Family history. Epilepsy can run in families, so your doctor may ask about your family's medical history.

Description of symptoms. Your doctor will want to know exactly what happened during your seizure, including how long it lasted and what you were doing when it began.

Neurological exam. This test assesses your nervous system function, including muscle strength, reflexes, and sensation.

Brain scans. These imaging tests may be used to look for structural abnormalities or tumours that could be causing your seizures. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is the most common type of brain scan used to diagnose epilepsy.

EEG (electroencephalogram). This test records your brain's electrical activity and can help identify abnormal patterns that may be associated with seizures.

Blood tests. These tests may be done to look for signs of infections or other conditions that could be causing your seizures.

Once a diagnosis of epilepsy is made, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Treatment options include medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes.

How epilepsy is treated?

The goal of treatment for epilepsy is to control seizures and minimize their impact on your life. The type of treatment you receive will depend on a number of factors, including the type of seizures you have, your age, your overall health, and your preferences.

Medication is the most common form of treatment for epilepsy. There are many different types of seizure medications available and finding the right one may take some trial and error. It's important to work with your doctor to find a medication that controls your seizures without causing unacceptable side effects.

Surgery may be an option for people with epilepsy who do not respond well to medication or who have certain types of seizures. Surgery involves removing the part of the brain that is causing the seizures. It is important to remember that surgery is not a cure for epilepsy, but it can often control seizures very effectively.

Lifestyle changes can also help people with epilepsy manage their condition. Getting enough sleep, avoiding drugs and alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding triggers that can cause seizures are all important. Your doctor can help you develop a plan to make these lifestyle changes.

Elderly people and epilepsy

Around one in four people newly diagnosed with epilepsy are over the age of 65.

Like all forms of epilepsy, this may be caused by a range of factors, but as we age, the blood vessels that supply blood to brain can become harder or narrower, which, in turn can affect brain activity.

Ways to keep safe during a seizure

One of the If you suffer from frequent seizures, arranging your home and surrounding to be as safe as possible will help to protect you.

Choosing to wear a personal alarm with fall detection can help you should you have a seizure. The device works by knowing when you have fallen and alerting your nominated contacts or our 24/7 response centre. They will then be able to check on you to ensure that you are ok following a seizure. You can learn more about SureSafe’s fall alarms online or by calling us.

If you live with epilepsy and would like to find out more about fall detection alarms or other devices that can help to manage your condition, Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to discover the available options.

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