National Epilepsy Awareness Week 14th-20th May 2017

National Epilepsy Awareness Week 14th-20th May 2017

This week is National Epilepsy Awareness Week (14th-20th May 2017), and is an important time for highlighting how epilepsy can affect someone’s life and the support that’s available.

According to the Epilepsy Society ‘Epilepsy is not just one condition, but a group of many different 'epilepsies' with one thing in common: a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain. Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed after a person has had more than one seizure. Not all seizures are due to epilepsy.’

Epilepsy can develop at any time to anyone, regardless of age, race or sex, but it is most commonly diagnosed in children and people over the age of 65. It is estimated that there are half a million people in the UK with epilepsy which is about 1 in every 100 people.

Epilepsy can also happen alongside other conditions and is most common in people with a learning disability than in the general population. Statistics compiled by the Epilepsy Society show;

  • About 1 in 3 people (32%) who have a mild to moderate learning disability also have epilepsy

  • The more severe the learning disability, the more likely that the person will also have epilepsy

  • Around 1 in 5 people (20%) with epilepsy also have a learning disability


At Lighthouse Healthcare we are specialists in providing tailored pathways of care and a range of specialist services for individuals with learning disability, mental health problems, autistic spectrum conditions, personality disorder and those with additional complex needs including epilepsy.

How are epileptic seizures different for people with a learning disability?

There are many types of epileptic seizure and they can affect awareness, feelings, movement or behaviour. For example, complex focal seizures (also known as 'complex partial seizures') can include automatisms (repetitive movements without purpose) such as lip smacking or fiddling with clothing. Confusion can also be part of a seizure, and many people have periods of confusion after a seizure.

Because appearing confused or having difficulty in communicating can be part of having a learning disability, seizures may sometimes be hard to tell apart from behaviour due to a learning disability. What happens to someone with a learning disability during a seizure will not necessarily be any different from what happens to someone who does not have a learning disability. However, for some people with a learning disability, seizures may appear different in any of the following ways:

  • their seizures may be more frequent

  • their seizures may go on for longer

  • their seizures may be too complex to put into a typical seizure ‘category’

  • they might have more than one type of seizure, and could have one type of seizure closely followed by another type of seizure

  • their seizures may include subtle movements or behaviours that can be difficult to recognise as a seizure, sometimes described as ‘atypical’.

Treating epilepsy in people with a learning disability?

Treatment of epilepsy usually involves taking anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) to prevent seizures from happening. Treating people with a learning disability can often be more difficult as their seizures may be more prolonged or frequent.

Being able to understand their own epilepsy, and how to manage it, is important for everyone taking AEDs. Some people with learning disabilities can find it difficult to understand how and why they need to take their AEDs. They may need help with understanding this from relatives, carers or the health professionals involved in their care.

For more information on Epilepsy and Epilepsy in Learning Disability visit:


Content of this article taken from The Epilepsy Society website