Namibia: Alcohol and substance abuse augments people’s chances of having epilepsy at one point in their lives, according to Harmiena Riphagen, the Chairperson of Epilepsy Namibia.
Although anyone can develop epilepsy at anytime in their lives, Riphagen says alcohol or drug abuse damages the brain and “that can develop into epilepsy if it (the alcohol and substance abuse) goes on”. She explains that epilepsy is a neurological condition characterised by frequent seizures, which are a symptom of dysfunction in the brain or structural damage to the brain. There are more than a hundred types of epilepsies, she adds. As a result, medical treatment for epilepsy needs to be diagnosed. “The level of medication (treatment) depends on your weight, age and other illnesses,” Riphagen emphasizes.
Despite the unavailability of official statistics on the number of people who live with epilepsy, Riphagen believes that nearly three in a hundred people in Namibia live with the condition. In the world, one in a hundred people live with the condition, she says. “It’s very common, it’s a common disorder. From the organisation’s experience in reaching out to people, almost always people say they or their families have an experience with the condition,” she says.
Common myths on epilepsy are that this condition is contagious, a person with epilepsy can swallow their tongue during seizures and that people with epilepsy are disabled and cannot work. Further, Riphagen notes that due to the dramatic seizures that these people suffer, they are discriminated against. This means that they are likely to be socially isolated due to lack of understanding and myths attached to epilepsy. “It’s actually ironic that epilepsy does not discriminate but people in communities discriminate,” she says.
The organiszation reaches out to people with epilepsy and their families to nullify myths and misconceptions associated with this condition, Riphagen explains. “People with epilepsy are normal. They can live normal lives, they just can’t drink or drive because of seizures,” she says. In addition, Riphagen believes in the adage ‘birds of a feather flock together’.
However, “people with epilepsy are not really working together to represent themselves. It’s a lonely world out there, people with epilepsy are often marginalised and all they want is to be accepted. I really feel that people with epilepsy should work together to make themselves a part of their communities,” she stresses.
Epilepsy and the elderly
Physical changes related with ageing are most likely to cause epilepsy among the elderly. What’s more, an elderly person with the condition is most likely taking other treatment for medical purposes. These drugs can interact and produce negative side effects. “To control seizures in the elderly you have to balance the medication,” explains Riphagen stressing that the elderly people with epilepsy should discuss other treatment with their doctors to effectively control the condition.
Alzheimer’s disease can cause changes to the brain that may lead to seizures in the elderly. “Diseases of the kidneys, liver and even diabetes may cause epilepsy later in life,” she explains. In an event where a seizure occurs, an elderly person is at a higher risk of sustaining head injuries or fractures, Riphagen notes.
SOURCE: AllAfrica (http://allafrica.com/stories/201308301024.html)