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"Elderly with epilepsy often misdiagnosed initially" - report

17 Dec 2003

care is needed when diagnosing epilepsy in elderly people, according
to the authors of a report presented to the annual meeting of the American
Epilepsy Society

Researchers, led
by Dr Mark Spitz from the University
of Colorado Epilepsy Center
, studied
159 people with an average age of 71 years receiving care
in US Veteran Administration medical centres, and reported that the average
delay to correct diagnosis was 1.7 years (around 20 months).

Fifty per cent of those with generalised tonic-clonic seizures were
immediately diagnosed but only 20 per cent of people with complex partial
seizures were correctly diagnosed on initial assessment.

The authors wrote that epilepsy is under-diagnosed in the elderly and
is often mistaken by doctors for cardiac arrhythmia, Alzheimer's disease
or transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs).

Dr Spitz told the meeting:

"Primary care
physicians who are unfamiliar with the disorder therefore need to be
more alert
to patient self-reported symptoms that could indicate
less obvious forms of epilepsy than those characterised by grand mal
[tonic-clonic] seizures. Simple partial seizures, for example, may be
more difficult for non-neurologists to detect and diagnose accurately."