As we get older, it is a fact of life that our bodies start to physically and neurologically break down, which means that seniors are especially susceptible to seizures and epilepsy. If you or a loved one are experiencing epilepsy for the first time after age 65, you’re not alone according to a recent report in U.S News and World Report, which also states that among seniors, epilepsy is one of the top three most common neurological conditions. The report also states that epilepsy surfaces more often in old age than in middle age, reinforces by a spike over time of some of the root cause of epilepsy such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumors.
The Triggers of epilepsy
You should discuss with your client what triggers their seizure and what type of seizure will follow. There are numerous triggers, and each client is different. What will affect one person may not affect another with epilepsy. Triggers may include: flashing/blinking lights, lack of sleep, exhaustion, alcohol intake, noncompliance with medications, certain smells/sounds, fear/anxiety, nervousness, and hyperventilation.
The types of seizure may also vary, as no seizure is the same. The major types of seizures are tonic clonic (grand mal), and complex partial seizures. However, these types have now been further categorized. Let’s talk about some differences with these.
Grand mal, also known as tonic clonic or generalized seizures, impact the whole brain at once. Symptoms can include convulsions, jerking movements, muscle spasticity, and/or body stiffening.
Complex partial seizures effect consciousness, although the client is unlikely to remember having one of these seizures after it ceases. These seizures can produce a confused state in which the client may stare or make smacking lip movements or muscle twitches. Clients will not be able to speak during the seizure.
Although it’s always possible for seizures to change in nature, seizures often coincide with a set pattern of behavior. Because clients usually have a routine in their life, it is important to document what the client was doing during the seizure. Some people get a warning feeling, or an aura, that a seizure is about to happen. These feelings will vary, but are usually the same for each individual client. He/she may say that they are experiencing a feeling of déjà vu, an out of body experience, a sudden smell, etc.
Basic first aid for seizures
Be calm. Watching a seizure can be frightening. Keep the client away from obstacles that may harm them. Clear the area of sharp objects. Place a soft item underneath their head if possible and make sure they are not face down.
Do not try and stop their movements or hold them down. Turn them on to their left side.
Call 911 if they are having repeated seizures, or they fell, or hit their head, if they have difficulty breathing, if they are unconscious after the seizure, have a heart condition, or the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes.
Monitor the client during the seizure for body movement and note the time it lasted. Be aware that the client may urinate or deficate on themselves during the seizure. Do not offer food or fluids until the client is fully awake. The client may not remember having a seizure and may either cry, be confused, or experience nausea.
The Stress of epilepsy on a caregiver
The stress of caring for a senior citizen with epilepsy can be overwhelming. It is important that caregivers do not neglect themselves and make sure they get plenty of rest. There is a wide range of support groups and forums with vast information about epilepsy which is a neurological disorder marked by sudden, recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Caregivers of seniors with epilepsy should be aware that the subject matter encases a variety of topics. There are various items to consider, such as: type of seizure, triggers, medications, and seizure first aid.
Article Written by Gina Arriaga, Pride PHC Field Supervisor