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Unique Challenges for Teenagers with Epilepsy

The teenage years can be challenging under the best of circumstances. For teenagers with epilepsy, these challenges can be even more complex. Maturing into adulthood, social pressures, increasing responsibilities, learning to drive, and heightened self-consciousness all take on a whole new dimension when a teenager is also managing epilepsy.

At the NSPC Epilepsy Center, we have the privilege of taking care of many adolescents who suffer from epilepsy. From our point of view, managing epilepsy is about far more than recording the number of seizures or prescribing an antiepileptic medication. It’s also about the quality of life and psychological issues that teenagers with epilepsy face on a daily basis.

When we see teenagers with epilepsy, we try to delicately delve into the many psychological dynamics that could make a young person struggle with the diagnosis. We typically ask some questions to get a better understanding of their specific challenges. These include:

How does it make them feel?
Are they feeling depressed or anxious?
Do they feel different from their friends?
Do their friends know about their seizures?
Have they experienced a feeling of stigma?
Have they stopped taking their medications because they don’t want to feel different from their friends who don’t take medications?
What about pressures from friends to drink alcohol or stay up very late – both of which can lower the threshold for having a seizure?
When we evaluate teenagers with epilepsy in the presence of their parents, we feel that it is also very important to speak directly to them, rather than focus on the parents to get information. Adolescents deserve the dignity of being spoken to as responsible individuals who can understand the meaning of their diagnosis, the risks and benefits of epilepsy treatment, and the need in some circumstances to take specific precautions. We find listening is equally important as speaking during an office visit.

While talking to parents and the teenager with epilepsy, we also inquire about the family environment. Parenting a child with epilepsy can be very anxiety-provoking, and parents often have concerns about being over or under protective. As well, we try to get a sense of how epilepsy has impacted members of the family and how each member is getting along. Sometimes, we recommend interventions that can help families better adapt to issues that are raised by having epilepsy.

In upcoming blog posts, we will explore many other areas related to epilepsy in the teenage years, including learning disabilities, attention problems, academic struggles, depression, anxiety, the classic epilepsy syndromes of adolescence, and our unique take on medication and surgical treatments for epilepsy in this age group. Please stay tuned.

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