Senior moments could be silent seizures

"Every bone in my body felt like it was totally arthritic. I thought I was just getting klutzy and I was having blackouts," said epilepsy patient, George Cheresne.

George Cheresne thought his troubles were just a part of growing older and so did those closest to him.

"He had a stare about him," said George's sister, Toni McCollum.

"All of the sudden, he just kind of leaned over, and a cigarette dropped out of his hand," said George's best friend, John Vail.

It wasn't old age it was epilepsy. In a video you can see George having a seizure, but there are no jerky movements.

"Right now, really all that he's doing is part of the seizure and he's not interacting," said Dr. Lara Jehi, Cleveland Clinic.

There are no jerky movements that most of us associate with epilepsy. George is moving his mouth a little, but for the most part, he just zones out. Some of the signs of senior epilepsy are repeated episodes of losing consciousness, dizziness, and language or behavioral changes.

"Older people have more staring spells or even pass out when having a seizure," said Dr. Jehi.

Epilepsy affects about 300,000 seniors.

"The longer you let it drag on, the more damage it can do to the brain," said Dr. Jehi.

Treatments include medication and surgery. George had the part of his brain removed that was causing the problem. Now, he feels 100-percent better.

"I can say for sure I have not had a seizure since the surgery," said Cheresne.

And his family and friends have the man they knew back.

"It's in his eyes. That look is gone," said McCollum.

"He hasn't lost his edge at all," said Vail.

Doctors believe epilepsy could be a side effect of stroke and the fatigue and symptoms are often misdiagnosed as heart problems. The risk of getting epilepsy is at least four-times higher in people older than 60.

Web Extra Information: Senior moment or epilepsy?


More than 3 million Americans suffer from epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy is a seizure disorder, which means it produces seizures on a regular basis. When a person has two or more seizures, it's safe to say they have epilepsy. Seizures affect every person differently and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Symptoms can include convulsions, loss of consciousness, blank staring, lip smacking and jerking movements of the arms and legs. Epilepsy tends to strike in early childhood and late adulthood. The groups most often diagnosed with epilepsy are children under 2 and adults over 65.


The Epilepsy Foundation says senior citizens make up the most rapidly growing population group with epilepsy. For now, the number rests at 300,000 people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Traditionally, epilepsy is seen as a condition that starts in childhood and lasts throughout a person's lifetime, but statistics show the condition is just as likely to strike in old age as it is during the first ten years of life.

Epilepsy affects senior citizens differently than young people. The symptoms can be different and confused with other conditions. In older adults, seizures often manifest themselves as repeated episodes of dizziness, loss of consciousness, language change or behavioral change. In older adults, epilepsy can cause problems with memory and cognition if left untreated, says Joseph Sirven, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz.


In about seven out of 10 people, no cause of epilepsy can be identified. For the remainder, causes can include head injuries or lack of oxygen during birth, lead poisoning, genetic conditions, and infections like meningitis or encephalitis. In old age, epilepsy is more often associated with other conditions like dementia and stroke. Other causes include tumors, cardiovascular events and trauma.


Unfortunately, treatment of epilepsy in seniors is often more difficult because of age-related issues. One of those is medication interference. Anti-seizure medications may interact with many drugs, and 25 percent of older adults take five or more medications regularly, according to a recent Medco Drug Trends Report. It's important for senior citizens with epilepsy to notify their doctor of all medications they're taking before being prescribed any anti-seizure medication.



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