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Epilepsia. 2002;43 Suppl 3:71-9.

What do you do when they grow up? Approaches to seizures in developmentally delayed adults.

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Department of Neurology, NYU School of Medicine, New York 10016, USA.


Epilepsy and developmental disabilities (DD) often occur together but affect individuals differently and have a complex causal relationship. Most epilepsy in the population with DD is partial or symptomatic generalized. Seizures and antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) can further delay development, and the DD can complicate treatment and adjustment to epilepsy. Medical care and decision making require careful coordination of health care providers and the family, especially because of the trend for the patients to live in group homes. Behavioral and psychiatric disorders are difficult to diagnose but common in those with DD and epilepsy; psychiatric disorders are perhaps up to sevenfold higher in this group than in the general population. Psychotropic medications-antidepressants, anxiolytics (but use caution with benzodiazepines), antipsychotics, and stimulants-are appropriate for those with psychiatric disorders. Diagnostic difficulties may lead to undertreatment, and the motivation to lessen certain behaviors may lead to overtreatment. Because those with DD may be unusually sensitive to adverse effects of both seizures and AEDs, cognitive and behavioral side effects must be carefully monitored. Few relevant studies exist. For some patients, comorbid psychiatric disorders may be treated with one AED, such as carbamazepine, lamotrigine, or valproate. Phenobarbital and phenytoin may be inappropriate for those with epilepsy and DD. Studies have shown some success with oxcarbazepine (for partial and generalized epilepsy) and with adjunctive lamotrigine. For those on medication regimens, perhaps taking combinations of drugs for numerous years, queries about earlier attempts to reduce AEDs and gradual efforts to substitute less toxic mediations are worthwhile. Vagus nerve stimulation and epilepsy surgery for those with medically refractory epilepsy may be options after careful evaluation.

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