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Major study launched into epilepsy in older people

4 March, 2003

A major new study into the use of anti-epileptic drugs in older people has been announced by the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy.

Following a $7 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, researchers seek to improve the quality of life for seniors with epilepsy and those receiving anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) as treatment for other diseases.

The research will be divided into four projects, which will run concurrently for five years. The projects will focus on patient responses to medication, drug metabolism, population variations, and potential correlations between overmedication and the occurrence of falls, fractures, depression, and decline in cognitive capabilities.

Dr Ilo Leppik, clinical professor of pharmacy, said:

"Sixty or 70 years ago, the average adult only lived to their mid-50s. Now, life expectancy is in the 70s, which means we're seeing a greater occurrence of diseases that come with old age, including epilepsy. It's possible that seniors always had a higher rate of epilepsy, we just didn't know it because people didn't live that long."

According to James Cloyd, professor in the College of Pharmacy, the traditional approach to treating epilepsy has been a "one-size-fits-all" strategy that the University research team believes may contribute to overmedication of seniors:

He added:

"Thirty years ago, you only had two AEDs and everyone received the same dose of the same drug. It was easy to either over- or undermedicate patients. In our recent research we've seen how different the elderly are from younger patients with respect to the amount of medication needed to produce optimal effects."

This study is the first to examine in a comprehensive way how age, race, gender, genetic makeup, and other factors affect how seniors absorb and metabolise AEDs and the outcome of AED therapy. This is deemed important because irregular absorption could increase the risk of having a seizure while a slower rate of metabolism could contribute to overmedication.