Cae­sar’s elec­tri­cal con­nec­tion to rabbi

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY JOY SABLE

WHAT DO Julius Cae­sar, Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Danny Glover and the late Rabbi Lionel Blue have in com­mon? All three had epilepsy. For thou­sands of years, peo­ple hav­ing seizures were re­garded with sus­pi­cion and were even thought to be pos­sessed by evil forces. The so­cial stigma at­tached to epilepsy meant those dis­play­ing symp­toms would be treated as out­casts.

Thank­fully, in the de­vel­oped world at least, such beliefs no longer pre­vail but there is still a lack of knowl­edge about the con­di­tion, which af­fects more than 500,000 peo­ple in the UK and 60 mil­lion world­wide. Around 87 peo­ple are di­ag­nosed with epilepsy ev­ery day.

Epilepsy is a neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion, which means it af­fects the brain and ner­vous sys­tem. It can cause dif­fer­ent types of seizures. Elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity hap­pens in our brains all the time, as the cells send mes­sages to each other. A seizure oc­curs when there is a sud­den burst of in­tense elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity in the brain, tem­po­rar­ily dis­rupt­ing the way the brain nor­mally works. Up to three per cent of peo­ple with epilepsy will be af­fected by flash­ing lights (called pho­to­sen­si­tive epilepsy) but most do not have seizures trig­gered this way.

Dr Michael Gross is a con­sul­tant neu­rol­o­gist­who­run­sather­a­pies cen­tre in Har­row. He says the oc­cur­rence of epilepsy within the Jewish com­mu­nity is prob­a­bly a lit­tle less than in the UK pop­u­la­tion as a whole but this may be due to more con­trolled lifestyles, rather than any ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion: there are fewer head in­juries and less al­co­holism or drug abuse.

“Epilepsy can af­fect any cul­tural group at any age,” he says. “The key is al­ways get­ting the right di­ag­no­sis. A single fit isn’t epilepsy and many peo­ple with black­outs can be wrongly di­ag­nosed.

“If you do have a black­out, then seek help. It should al­ways be in­ves­ti­gated by a spe­cial­ist, with an MRI and other ap­pro­pri­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“There are ex­cel­lent treat­ments avail­able for epilepsy — most peo­ple will get treated with med­i­ca­tion with few side ef­fects. Take the treat­ment as pre­scribed, get good-qual­ity sleep and not too much al­co­hol.”

The most dif­fi­cult group of peo­ple to man­age with the con­di­tion are young women who may want to have chil­dren. This is be­cause cer­tain antiepilep­tic drugs can cause foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties. Nev­er­the­less, with proper care, most women with epilepsy can have a nor­mal preg­nancy and a healthy baby. This year, Pur­ple Day — de­voted to rais­ing both aware­ness and funds — will be on March 26. Na­tional Epilepsy Week is May 14 to 20, with the two ma­jor UK char­i­ties, Epilepsy Ac­tion and Epilepsy So­ci­ety, hold­ing events around the country. Epilepsy So­ci­ety un­der­takes re­search to im­prove the di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of epilepsy and works to­wards pre­vent­ing it. In terms of new de­vel­op­ments, ge­netic re­search is a key focus at the so­ci­ety, which this year celebrates its 125th an­niver­sary.

Pro­fes­sor Ley San­der, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of Epilepsy So­ci­ety, says: “Un­der­stand­ing how a per­son’s ge­netic makeup can af­fect their risk of de­vel­op­ing epilepsy, the con­se­quences and their re­sponse to treat­ment is cen­tral to the re­search we do. Cur­rently our focus is look­ing at the ex­treme forms of epilepsy char­ac­terised by un­con­trolled seizures and dif­fi­cul­ties such as learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

“In se­vere forms of epilepsy it can be eas­ier to pin­point the miss­ing part of the genome which is caus­ing the mal­func­tion­ing genes. In less se­vere epilep­sies it can be far more dif­fi­cult to pick out the ge­netic vari­ants which are caus­ing the seizures.”

For Jewish peo­ple with epilepsy, the char­ity Jewish Blind & Dis­abled is able to pro­vide sup­port, en­abling them to live independent lives, with dig­nity and se­cu­rity.

Hazel Kaye, its chief ex­ec­u­tive, says: “Our ten­ants cover a large range of dif­fer­ent dis­abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing epilepsy among many oth­ers, such as Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, Parkin­son’s, cere­bral palsy and ac­ci­dent vic­tims, as well, of course, as blind­ness and par­tial sight plus those dis­abil­i­ties that come with age. In­deed, some of th­ese con­di­tions in­clude epilepsy among their symp­toms.

“For those with epilepsy, we find the 24/7 sup­port that Jewish Blind & Dis­abled of­fers is es­pe­cially im­por­tant and the main rea­son why they may choose a flat in one of our build­ings.

“Our house man­agers live on-site, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year and are avail­able to help our ten­ants when­ever they need them. We also have a ten­ancy sup­port team, who pro­vide an ad­di­tional level of as­sis­tance in­clud­ing prac­ti­cal ad­vice and emo­tional sup­port in times of stress and anx­i­ety.

“Ten­ants with epilepsy may also have other dis­abil­i­ties and there­fore fur­ther ben­e­fit from liv­ing in one our build­ings, which are de­signed with un­par­al­leled at­ten­tion to de­tail, to en­able peo­ple to live in­de­pen­dently. They in­clude many spe­cial fea­tures and thought­ful touches, such as emer­gency pull cords through­out, wet floor shower rooms, wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble kitchens, colour-coded cor­ri­dors, level ac­cess to the ac­ces­si­ble gar­dens and much more.” epilep­syso­ci­ neu­rol­o­gy­

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