Epilepsy is the world’s most common serious brain disorder.

Last week Epilepsy Queensland and St Vincent’s Hospital held a Thinking Outside the Box Symposium that discussed the health issues around Epilepsy, to increase public knowledge.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder associated with abnormal activity in the brain that can cause episodes and seizures.

The keynote speaker Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is a Canadian educator and author who has become living proof of the possibility of (neuroplasticity) reshaping your brain.

As a child she read and wrote everything backwards, had trouble processing language, continuously got lost and was physically uncoordinated.

She later overcame these disorders by learning how to change her brain’s capacity to learn and is sharing her story within her book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.

An exciting new approach

Neuroplasticity (a person’s ability to change their brain) promises exciting potential in the treatment of epilepsy.

Neuropsychiatrist, Professor Harry McConnell says the growing understanding of neuroplasticity is making experts in epilepsy consider new approaches for treatment.

“We have always thought of epilepsy as being a static condition, but now we are seeing it as a dynamic condition that changes over time because of different treatments and environmental stimuli. We are just now beginning to appreciate ways we can modify the brain and influence neuroplasticity for positive outcomes for people with epilepsy.

“It is not just about suppressing seizures, but changing the connections that the brain is using,” he says.

Risky business

Brisbane-based neurologist, Dr Dan McLaughlin says having epilepsy may influence a person’s health decades after the onset of seizures, with the increased risk of death from these conditions being both significant and unexplained.

“We know that mortality risks are higher in the early stages of epilepsy, but evidence is showing increased risks of sudden death in epilepsy up to 30 years later. The link with pneumonia is puzzling; and research indicates that epilepsy, like smoking, may be a risk factor for stroke,”Dr McLaughlin says.

According to Dr McLaughlin, medication may not be the culprit for higher risk of dying 20 to 25 years after a person develops epilepsy because research shows that 60 percent of people studied were no longer taking drug therapy. In addition, 80 percent of those studied had not had a seizure for five years.

Epilepsy can have a profound impact on people’s life and the speakers at the Symposium urge people and professionals to consider the importance of the person and not just the seizures.

Do you believe that we have the ability to reshape our brains, even when we have a neurological disorder?