What You Should Know About Epilepsy In Our Senior Population
At Pegasus Home Health Care, we believe in the dignity and value of every individual. That includes our clients and the professionals who serve them. That’s why diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of what makes us an industry leader.
Pegasus skilled in-home caregivers in Granada Hills and elsewhere help individuals live safely and independently. Their patients have a variety of conditions, including epilepsy. Career home health care nurses summarize what you should know about epilepsy in our senior population.
Not All Seizures Are Due To Epilepsy
Approximately 10 percent of Americans will experience a seizure during their life. Not all seizures are due to epilepsy, as some are symptoms of other conditions. Even so, millions of individuals live with epilepsy.
Epileptic seizures begin in the brain, which means it’s a neurological disease. Only dementia and strokes are neurological conditions that affect more seniors than epilepsy.
Epilepsy occurs more frequently now in the elderly than it did in the past. Often the cause is unknown. Although age can be a factor, the primary known causes are comorbidities and related polypharmacy.
Strokes, dementia, and brain tumors are significant factors producing seizures in seniors. Other causes include fevers, hepatic or renal failure, and toxicity. Seizures differ in symptoms according to the cause.
When seizures become chronic, the individual potentially has epilepsy. Doctors use various tests to rule out other conditions and confirm a diagnosis of epilepsy. Treatment can then help some individuals remain seizure-free.
Epileptic Symptoms Are Often Subtle In Seniors
People often have stereotyped ideas of epileptic seizures. They don’t realize the person is having a seizure if they don’t see grand mal seizures. Subtle symptoms are often ignored or attributed to different conditions.
Accordingly, epilepsy is frequently undiagnosed in seniors. In addition, epilepsy carries a stigma for older adults. For that reason, the condition is often a hidden disease for many.
Subtle symptoms that your elderly patient may exhibit include:
- Behavioral or personality changes. These usually aren’t permanent and are often described as being “off” for a relatively short time.
- “Blanking out” spells. Individuals may stare unknowingly into space. They may not be able to communicate.
- Memory loss or lost moments of time that are more than temporary forgetfulness. Patients may also appear confused, dazed, or experience a momentary lack of awareness.
- Repetitive movements that would be natural if they didn’t recur. Examples are fidgeting, jerking that looks like a nervous tic, lip smacking, brief involuntary spasms, and similar movements.
Of course, they may also exhibit the classic signs of epilepsy, such as convulsions, falling, or losing consciousness. And almost all the above symptoms correspond with other conditions.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you know all your patient’s diagnoses and medications. You must also know the OTC drugs, supplements, and herbal products they consume. Consulting with a pharmacist can help determine if the symptoms result from drug interactions.
As an in-home caregiver, you see your patient regularly. You may notice some of the subtle signs of epilepsy during your visits. Your patient or their families may also tell you about symptoms.
Complications Of Untreated Epilepsy
If you suspect your patient has epilepsy, medical care is essential. If left untreated, it can lead to potentially dangerous complications, especially if they blank out or have seizures.
For example, patients may have an increased likelihood of:
- Drowning, if symptoms occur while bathing or swimming
- Falling, which can leave them disabled
- Vehicle accidents, if they lose control of the car
Individuals with epilepsy are at increased risk for anxiety and depression and may have thoughts of suicide.
Treating Epilepsy In Seniors Is Challenging
Treatment for epilepsy in the elderly presents challenges for healthcare providers, including in-home caregivers. Although dozens of medications are available to control epilepsy, many seniors cannot tolerate them. They are subject to interactions with other drugs for their comorbidities or they experience unpleasant side effects.
Side effects that hinder compliance with medications include, but aren’t limited to:
- Difficulties with memory, speech, and thinking
- Dizziness or loss of coordination
- Weight gain
Consultations with their physician or pharmacist may enable them to adjust the kind or dosage of their medications.
Free resources that can assist your patients in understanding and controlling their disease include:
- Managing Epilepsy Well Checklist
- Non-Medication Treatment Factsheets
- Seizure Diary App
- Seizure First Aid Resources (available in 14 languages and as an app. A poster is also available as an image that can be downloaded to a phone.)
- Seizure triggers
The Epilepsy Foundation offers caregivers a free Seniors and Seizures course. November is Epilepsy Awareness Month, making now an ideal time to increase your knowledge.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our professional in-home caregivers in Granada Hills and our other locations provide services tailored to meet each patient’s requirements. Our career home health care nurses help individuals with epilepsy live safely in their home.
As a member of the Pegasus team, you’ll have support from our staff and colleagues in achieving your career goals. Professionals who join us receive the training and respect they need to advance their careers. We’re an equal opportunity employer.