Department of Neurology

Epilepsy in the elderly

Q: My father, 71, has been diagnosed with late-onset epilepsy due a seizure he just had. I have never heard of epilepsy manifesting itself so late in life. I found your info on the WWW and thought I would drop you a quick note to ask if you could point me in the right direction to find out more about this condition.

Thank you very much for any assistance you may be able to provide in this.

A: Although epilepsy is usually considered a childhood disease, we now know from several research studies that there is another peak of onset in the elderly population. The most common cause is stroke, but many cases are associated with no identifiable brain abnormalities.

The treatment of epilepsy in senior citizens is often complex, because of the tendency for persons in this age group to have other medical problems, and thus, other medications that can interact with the seizure medications. In addition, older persons may have more difficulty tolerating seizure medications than younger adults. Thus, they may be more sensitive to cognitive impairment, gait problems, tremor, etc.

It is especially important in this age group that family members, as well as the patient, understand and look out for side effects, since even "therapeutic" blood levels of seizure medications can cause problems. It is also important that all physicians involved with care are aware of the different medications, and their potential interactions.

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