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Epilepsy Health Center

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Epilepsy Affects Learning Disabilities Risk

Learning Problems Are More Common With Seizures in Brain's Left Side
WebMD Health News

Oct. 14, 2004 -- People with epilepsy who have seizures originating in the left side of their brain are more likely to have learning disabilities than those with seizures in their brain's right side, according to experts in Louisiana.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that makes people susceptible to having recurrent seizures. The condition affects about 2.5 million people in the U.S.

The cause of epilepsy is not known. However, epilepsy is not a form of mental illness or mental retardation.

The study was conducted by a team of scientists including neuropsychologist Grant Butterbaugh, PhD, of Louisiana State University's Epilepsy Center of Excellence.

The researchers studied 31 people with epilepsy. Nineteen had had seizures on the left side of their brains; 12 were affected by seizures in their brain's right hemisphere.

Butterbaugh's team expected to find higher rates of learning disabilities in the group with seizures in the brain's left hemisphere, which handles language and communication.

The researchers examined reading comprehension, written language, and calculation skills using the definition of learning disabilities from laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

By those standards, learning disabilities fall "below the average peer's skills."

Test results confirmed the researchers' predictions.

Disability rates for reading comprehension, written language, and calculation were higher in epilepsy patients with seizures in the brain's left hemisphere.

Nearly 75% of those participants with epilepsy originating on the left side had at least one learning disability, compared with about 8% of patients with seizures on the brain's right side.

In addition, people with left-hemisphere seizures had significantly higher rates of "poor literacy and/or career development" and were more likely to have needed "alternative or special educational instruction" in the past.

The skills studied were complex and included tasks frequently faced at school or work. Testing those abilities and using law-based standards could help get people with epilepsy the assistance they need and are legally entitled to, say the researchers in a recent issue of the journal Epilepsia.

For instance, epilepsy patients with calculation disabilities might be given calculators to use at work or school, and those with language problems could use verbal instruction and tape recorders instead of written communication.

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