Preventing cognitive impairment in children with epilepsy

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Cognitive impairments are common in children with epilepsy. They may already be present before the onset of epilepsy or occur – and even progress – during its course. Many variables contribute to cognitive dysfunction. Those that can be targeted to prevent (further) cognitive impairment will be highlighted in this review.

Recent findings

Ideally, but not yet realistically, epileptogenesis is prevented to avert seizures and cognitive impairments in high-risk patients. New and targeted treatments of progressive epileptogenic disorders and precision medicine approaches in genetic epilepsies are increasingly applied. Cognitive outcome benefits from early diagnosis and treatment of epileptic encephalopathy. Ongoing seizures may cause permanent and progressive changes in brain structure and connectivity, suggesting that early seizure control optimizes eventual cognitive functioning. Frequent interictal epileptiform discharges justify treatment in children with cognitive impairments that are otherwise unexplained. Cognitive adverse effects of antiepileptic drugs should be closely monitored and balanced against potential benefits. Finally, early surgical treatment in selected candidates will improve their cognitive outcome.

Summary

Although important determinants of intellectual functioning – including the child's genetic and environmental background and the epileptogenic pathology – may not be modifiable, several variables that contribute to cognitive impairment can be targeted to improve outcome. Early etiological diagnosis, personalized therapies, presurgical evaluation, and strict control of seizures – or in some patients interictal discharges – can prevent (further) cognitive impairments.

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