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Neurology. 2012 Feb 14;78(7):448-53. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182477edc. Epub 2012 Jan 18.

Incidence and prevalence of epilepsy among older U.S. Medicare beneficiaries.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.



To determine the prevalence and incidence of epilepsy among U.S. Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years old and over, and to compare rates across demographic groups.


We performed a retrospective analysis of Medicare administrative claims for 2001-2005, defining prevalent cases as persons with ≥1 claim with diagnosis code 345.xx (epilepsy) or 2 or more with diagnosis code 780.3x (convulsion) ≥1 month apart, and incident cases as prevalent cases with 2 years immediately before diagnosis without such claims. Prevalence and incidence rates were calculated for the years 2003-2005 using denominators estimated from a 5% random sample of Medicare beneficiaries. Results were correlated with gender, age, and race.


We identified 282,661 per year on average during 2001-2005 (a total of 704,243 unique cases overall), and 62,182 incident cases per year on average during 2003-2005. Average annual prevalence and incidence rates were 10.8/1,000 and 2.4/1,000. Overall, rates were higher for black beneficiaries (prevalence 18.7/1,000, incidence 4.1/1,000), and lower for Asians (5.5/1,000, 1.6/1,000) and Native Americans (7.7/1,000, 1.1/1,000) than for white beneficiaries (10.2/1,000, 2.3/1,000). Incidence rates were slightly higher for women than for men, and increased with age for all gender and race groups.


Epilepsy is a significant public health problem among Medicare beneficiaries. Efforts are necessary to target groups at higher risk, such as minorities or the very old, and to provide the care necessary to reduce the negative effects of epilepsy on quality of life.

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