Over-65s are most at risk of developing epilepsy

Over-65s are most at risk of developing epilepsy

Every four minutes in the UK, a person is diagnosed with epilepsy. Contrary to common belief, the life-threatening condition – which affects one in every 103 people – does not always begin during infancy. In fact, epilepsy can strike at any age, and the over-65s are now the largest group in which a first seizure is reported.


Almost a quarter of people with newly-diagnosed epilepsy are over 60, yet the condition is becoming increasingly difficult for doctors to diagnose, particularly in individuals with existing medical conditions. However, the onset of the condition in later life may be an early indicator of cerebrovascular disease, which can cause strokes and brain haemorrhages.


Epilepsy Action is campaigning for better care and access to relevant treatments for epilepsy. Yet, with few geriatricians specialising in epilepsy, the need for improvements in the treatment of late-onset epilepsy has never been greater. We ask the experts at Epilepsy Action for their advice on spotting, and dealing with first-time seizures.


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What to do if you have a seizure for the first time

Some older people live alone and have no one to witness their seizures. There are a number of medical conditions that can cause symptoms similar to epilepsy, which can make it difficult to diagnose. So, an epilepsy specialist will make a diagnosis based mainly on their symptoms.


Take a detailed diary of seizures to appointments with doctors. Keep note of dates and times of seizures. If you can, write down a description of what happened, and how you were feeling before and after. Epilepsy Action has an app to help people track their seizures:


If you can, take someone who witnessed your seizure to your appointments. If this isn’t possible, bring along a written description of what the witness saw.


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How can you tell the difference between a seizure and a stroke?

Every year around 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. The most common cause of epilepsy in people over the age of 60, strokes can cause brain injuries due to bleeding or a blockage in the blood supply, which could result in seizures.


Many seizures come without warning. Physical signs that suggest a person has had a seizure can include one or more of the following: headache, myalgia, bitten lateral tongue or cheek, urinary incontinence, and a loss or disturbance of consciousness.


If a person is having a focal seizure, they may not be aware of their surroundings or what they are doing. They may pluck at their clothes, smack their lips, swallow repeatedly, and wander around.


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What to do if you witness a seizure


Many people have short seizures, which usually stop by themselves and don’t require emergency treatment. However, the longer a seizure goes on for, the less likely it is to stop on its own.


Check the time. If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes you should call an ambulance.


Seizures lasting 30 minutes or more that are immediately followed by another seizure are a cause for concern. This is called status epilepticus, and it is a medical emergency that can lead to brain damage or even death. Call an ambulance if you believe someone is in status epilepticus.


Call an ambulance if...

- You know it is the person’s first seizure, or

- The seizure continues for more than five minutes, or

- One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures, or

- The person is injured during the seizure, or

- You believe the person needs urgent medical attention


Do...

- Guide the person from danger

- Stay with the person until recovery is complete

- Be calmly reassuring

- Explain anything that they may have missed


Don't...

- Restrain the person

- Act in a way that could frighten them, such as making abrupt movements or shouting at them

- Assume the person is aware of what is happening, or what has happened

- Give the person anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered

- Attempt to bring them round