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Epilepsy affects language skills

Epilepsy is still an illness that is difficult to treat, affecting the whole person and their entire life. Research at LiU shows that young patients often have lower language ability, particularly if they developed the illness in childhood.

This study tested the language abilities of a group of young adults with different types of epilepsy using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) combined with a neuropsychological survey. The results were compared with a control group of healthy volunteers.

Helena Gauffin, neurolog

“The most important factors that influence language ability are the development of the illness at a young age, and when the patient has only a short period of education. But the number of convulsive attacks and certain medicines are also significant,” says Helena Gauffin (pictured), consultant physician and recently graduated doctor of neurology, who presents the results in her doctoral thesis.

The brain activity images indicate that the brain can compensate for this deterioration by reallocating functions to other areas.

Despite the advent of many new medicines, patient improvements are slow in arriving. A five-year follow-up monitoring of young adults with epilepsy showed that the frequency of attacks had not fallen, nor was there a reduction in side effects. Epilepsy occurs in approximately 1% of the population. More than half of those afflicted have a mild form that can be kept in check with medication. But for 30 - 40% of cases, doctors find it difficult to produce an effective treatment.

“This group are greatly in need of better methods and medicines however the long awaited breakthrough has still not arrived,” says Gauffin.

Participants in the study filled in a questionnaire about quality of life, self-esteem and sense of coherence. Those with a high frequency of seizures or cognitive side effects from medicines reported reduced quality of life than the others. During the five-year period they also experienced deterioration in self-esteem and sense of coherence.

When a smaller group with epilepsy and memory problems were interviewed, it emerged that the disease affects the whole person, their everyday life and relationships with family, friends and society in general.

“They experience a lack of knowledge in their surroundings. They are scared they will not get help in the event of a fit, they encounter prejudice and have trouble establishing themselves in the workplace,” says Gauffin.

Thesis: Epilepsy in young adulthood: medical, psychosocial and functional aspects. Linköping University Medical Dissertations No. 1309. Thesis defence took place on September 13.

Contact: Helena Gauffin +46 101 032 698


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Last updated: 2014-10-29