Confusion in elderly may signal epilepsy

The symptoms of epilepsy may appear differently in senior citizens than in younger people, which makes the diagnosis tricky and can lead to incorrect treatment, says Rebecca O’Dwyer, MD, a neurologist at Upstate Medical University’s geriatric epilepsy clinic.

She says the incidence of epilepsy in older adults is on the rise, more than half of the cases caused by strokes. Tumors, metabolic disorders and neurodegenerative diseases can also lead to epilepsy. About 10 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have epilepsy.

Symptoms do not always include convulsions.

“The brain can manifest many different behaviors that are also seizures. It can be something very subtle, like the inability to talk or just staring off. It could also be confusion, especially in the elderly,” O’Dwyer says.

She says seniors are less likely than young people to experience auras before their seizures – and they are more likely to be treated successfully with medication.

Reach the geriatric epilepsy clinic at 315-464-4243.

Listen to an interview with Dr. O’Dwyer about epilepsy in older adults.

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