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Epileptic Seizure Recovery in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

When you think of conditions often affecting elderly people, epilepsy might not be first on your list. Yet it may be surprising to hear that one quarter of all people diagnosed with epilepsy are over 65 at the time when they’re diagnosed. Sometimes, older people’s epilepsy is connected to conditions such as strokes or a brain tumour. In other cases, there’s no known reason that epilepsy has developed.

However, all older people with epilepsy benefit from having friends and family around who understand their condition and know what to do if an epileptic seizure happens. In a previous blog post, we discussed what to do during an older person’s epileptic seizure. In this article, we’ll follow on by discussing what to do in the aftermath of a seizure. What effects after a seizure can an older person experience, and how long does recovery after a seizure take?

First things first: when to call 999

Let’s start by reviewing how to know whether an older person’s epileptic seizure should be treated as a medical emergency.

The NHS guidance on seizures states that you should dial 999 when someone’s epileptic seizure fits one or more of these criteria:

  • The person has never had a seizure before.
  • The person was seriously injured during the seizure.
  • The seizure lasts for more than five minutes, or longer than their seizures usually do.
  • The person doesn’t return to full awareness after the seizure.
  • The person has several seizures and doesn’t return to consciousness between them.

Other advice on seizures adds that if a person has trouble breathing after the seizure, if they’re pregnant, or if you’re concerned that they might have inhaled or swallowed water, you should also call 999.

This blog post won’t discuss what to do if an epileptic seizure fits one of these conditions. If it does, you should just call 999 and follow the instructions of the emergency responders.

However, if an older person has experienced an epileptic seizure that isn’t a medical emergency, we’re here with some general advice about how to help with seizure recovery.

It’s also worth mentioning that an older person who has epilepsy usually will have talked with their doctor about what to do after seizures. It’s always a good idea to check in with elderly loved ones to make sure everyone is aware of that plan.

What do seizures look like in the elderly?

It’s important to know that there are many different types of epileptic seizure. The type that’s most often seen in TV and films is the tonic-clonic seizure, in which a person loses consciousness, their body goes stiff, and then they fall to the floor and experience jerking and shaking movements.

Older people with epilepsy can have this type of seizure. However, more common in the elderly are less dramatic-looking seizures, such as complex partial seizures, in which a person remains standing but seems to “space out” or “go blank.” The older person may stare absently, wander or make automatic movements like lip smacking.

There are some effects after a seizure that are shared among all seizure types, and there are some after-effects that are mostly seen in tonic-clonic seizures. We’ll discuss both and some related dos and don’ts.

Common symptoms after a seizure of any type

Confusion and tiredness

A very common symptom after seizures is confusion. A person may be a little disoriented just after the seizure, so you may need to gently explain what just happened. Tiredness and exhaustion are also common effects after a seizure, and they can also hamper a person’s ability to think clearly.

This confusion is one reason why it’s important not to give a person food or drink after a seizure until they’re fully alert. They’re at risk of choking if they try to eat or drink while still being disoriented.

Confusion after a seizure can last for five, ten or fifteen minutes. But in elderly people it can actually last much longer, even for days. This is one reason why epilepsy in the elderly can sometimes be mistaken for dementia. People experiencing confusion after seizures may not remember what happens during this time, either.

How to help with confusion

During confusion in the aftermath of a seizure, seniors may need a little help or support with remembering and keeping up with tasks. For example, it’s extremely important to take all epilepsy medication on time, but there’s a danger that this period of confusion will cause a person to forget to take their medicine.

If you’re a family member of an older person with epilepsy, it can be hard to know how to help during this period of confusion. You might worry that an older person who’s disoriented might even trip or fall, such as if they forget there’s a small step somewhere in the home.

One solution is personal alarms for the elderly. For example, a one-touch alarm is easier for a confused person to use, in comparison to a phone. It can be very reassuring for family and friends to know that if an older person is experiencing confusion or anxiety after a seizure and needs help, that help will always be there.

Since falls are so dangerous for the elderly, every older person can benefit from safeguards against the chance of falling and not being able to get up and call for help. That protection is even more important for older people experiencing confusion that could put them at greater risk of a fall.

In the face of these risks, a personal alarm with automatic fall detection can offer great peace of mind. A personal alarm that is smart enough to sense a fall and call for help all by itself ensures that if an older person falls and loses consciousness or is too confused to call for help, an alert will still be sent out.

How about the risk of forgetting medication? Personal alarms can help with that too – like a personal alarm watch that offers all the above functions and also comes with a medication reminders function too.

Common symptoms after tonic-clonic seizures

In addition to the common confusion and tiredness symptoms after a seizure of any type, there are also specific aspects of recovery from tonic-clonic seizures – the kind of seizure that involves falling to the ground and jerking movements.

Once the jerking movements of a tonic-clonic seizure have ended, you should put the person into the recovery position. This sideways-facing position is designed to keep a person’s airways open.

It’s very important to stay with a person who’s experienced a tonic-clonic seizure until they’re entirely aware and all right. As they regain awareness, you’ll want to ensure they are breathing well. A person may lose control of their bladder during a tonic-clonic seizure, so you’ll want to help them handle any embarrassment and clean-up as discreetly as possible.

There are many other physical symptoms that a person might have after a tonic-clonic seizure:

  • Sometimes a person’s muscles may ache, or they might have a headache.
  • They might have bitten their tongue or inside of their mouth during the seizure.
  • Their disorientation might cause them to behave in odd ways, including being aggressive.
  • They might feel very exhausted and need to sleep.

The most important way to help is to remain calm and reassuring and provide comfort if the person feels shaken or fearful.

Support your older loved one through recovery after a seizure with SureSafe

Effects after a seizure, especially confusion, can be surprisingly long-lasting. But SureSafe’s highly reviewed, affordable and easy-to-use elderly personal alarm options can help.

A UK leader in personal alarms, SureSafe has 4.8 of 5 stars on review.io. If you choose an alarm that directs its calls to our 24/7 response centres, you can rest assured that our centres have the top industry accreditations available. Alternatively, opt for a family and friends alarm for an alarm that calls up to five nominated contacts. Either way, you’ll have reassurance that your elderly loved one won’t be without help if something goes amiss or they fall while they’re experiencing confusion or disorientation after a seizure.

What else can our alarms do to support older people with epilepsy? To learn more, give us a call and speak to our team of experts at 0800 112 3201. You can also reach out via our live chat or request a call back.

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