The picture of Epilepsy has changed

The word epilepsy has many frightening meanings to people. Historically, epilepsy has been associated with mental illness or mental retardation. As you were growing up you may have thought the only people who had epilepsy were children and people in institutions; many older adults associate epilepsy with people needing a great deal of medical care and institutionalization. This stigma and attitude continues to prevail about epilepsy. However, many people who live with epilepsy reject these notions and outdated attitudes and, with good medication control and some home safety modifications live healthy and productive lives.

The Epilepsy Association, Metro Toronto — as do the other branches of the association across the country — aims to improve awareness about older adults with epilepsy, and provide education and support to people recently diagnosed with epilepsy and their families and caregivers.

(If you are an older adult, or you know someone 55-plus who has epilepsy or seizure disorder, the Epilepsy Association, Metro Toronto would like to hear from you. Please contact Molly Saunders or Kelly Pollock at the Epilepsy Association, Metro Toronto at 964-9095 or e-mail <A re=”mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected])

Often, health professionals are reluctant to use the word epilepsy because of the stigma attached to the condition. By definition, an individual who has had two or more seizures, regardless of their cause, is said to have epilepsy. Sometimes, the term “seizure disorder” is used.

There are many different kinds of seizures. Many people, especially those who had taken First Aid Training are familiar with grand mal or tonic-clonic seizures. A seizure can involve a fall to the ground with convulsions (tonic-clonic or grand mal) or staring spells followed by confusion and disorientation (complex partial seizures).

Epilepsy can occur at any age and can be caused by a variety of factors. Seizures may occur due to head injury, hereditary predisposition, substance abuse and after a stroke. Many health care professionals do not describe seizures following stroke as epilepsy and thus many individuals and their caregivers are not aware of the education, counselling and other supports available through the Epilepsy Association.

Research indicates that 10 of every 1000 people who are 65 years of age and up have Epilepsy; twice the rate of the general population. Preliminary research indicates that there is an overwhelming lack of awareness about epilepsy and seizure disorder within the older adult population. Epilepsy can be misdiagnosed or confused with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, many seniors are isolated and unnecessarily restricted in their activities and are without the support they require to adjust to their newly diagnosed condition.