While epilepsy has traditionally been considered a condition of childhood, the incidence of epilepsy in those over 75 years of age has increased significantly in recent years. The incidence (or new cases each year) of epilepsy in those over the age of 75 is now as high as it is in children under the age of 10 years. The increased incidence of epilepsy in seniors is linked to a number of factors including:
- Aging of the brain in the later years of life that results in an increased risk of seizures.
- The increase in the number of seniors as the population boom ages.
- Longer life spans today than in the past.
Many seniors remember when epilepsy was incorrectly regarded as a form of mental illness. In the not so distant past, people with seizures were shunned, sent off to institutions, or kept isolated at home. But thankfully, times are changing. Epilepsy is now a well understood neurological disorder, no different from any other physical illness. For the most part, seniors can continue to live a full, productive life, with only minor adjustments to lifestyle.
Seniors often are required to take other types of medications for various conditions. It is vitally important to make physicians and pharmacists aware of all medications you are currently taking. Certain drugs, prescription as well as over-the-counter medicine, may negatively interact with epilepsy medication. Even an antacid or headache tablet could cause a potentially dangerous drug interaction.
When a senior is diagnosed with epilepsy, one of the unfortunate reactions of well-meaning family members can be over protectiveness. Although they may have the best of intentions, families can unnecessarily cause a senior to forfeit his or her independence.
For the most part, seniors who are generally in good health continue to live independently. Technology can offer helpful solutions for concerned family members. Portable phones, beepers, and wall or neck alarms can reassure families that help is within reach if it is needed. The most important thing is to discuss these issues, perhaps in the presence of an objective third party such as a physician, so that everyone feels comfortable with a senior’s living arrangements.