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Epilepsy misunderstood by older adults

18 December, 2002

A large percentage of older people have misperceptions about seizures and epilepsy, according to research by the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Over 100 adults without epilepsy between the ages of 60 and 99 were surveyed. Most were familiar with seizures or epilepsy by either knowing somebody (67 per cent) or having witnessed a seizure (69 per cent), however a sizeable minority of respondents had significant misperceptions about epilepsy.

Twenty-eight per cent either considered epilepsy a form of mental illness or were uncertain if it represented one. Eight per cent believed that seizures were contagious.

A concerning majority of respondents had misunderstandings about seizure first aid. Sixty-nine per cent were uncertain as to how to help someone with a seizure either suggesting or being uncertain that something needs to be placed in the mouth or that the individual should be held down during a seizure.

Several differences emerged between male and female responders regarding who they would tell about having seizures. Thirty-seven per cent of men and 25 per cent of women would tell a family member.

Forty-seven per cent either were uncertain or believed that individuals with seizures should not live independently. Fifty-one per cent were uncertain or believed that individuals with seizures should not have children and nearly one-third (29 per cent) were uncertain if people with seizures were violent.

Lead researcher Dr Deborah Shulman commented:

"[This study] may be indicative of how many older Americans view this condition. A larger population based study is needed to further define how to best structure community educational programs about epilepsy in older adults."