In assessing the effectiveness of prescribed medication there is a strong emphasis on the ability of the patient to adhere to the regime recommended by the clinician. For individuals with epilepsy, adherence to medication is crucial in preventing or minimizing seizures and their cumulative impact on everyday life. Non-adherence to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) can result in breakthrough seizures many months or years after a previous episode and can have serious repercussions on an individual’s perceived quality of life. Reasons for non-adherence are complex and multilayered. Patients can accidentally fail to adhere through forgetfulness, misunderstanding, or uncertainty about clinician’s recommendations, or intentionally due to their own expectations of treatment, side-effects, and lifestyle choice.
Adherence in epilepsy
Adherence is acting in accordance with advice, recommendations or instruction. Ways that adherence can be optimized;
- Educating individuals and their families and carers in understanding of their condition and the rationale of treatment, reducing the stigma associated with the conditions.
- Using simple medication regimes.
- Positive relationships between healthcare professionals, the individual with epilepsy and their family and /or carers.
- Other measures are; manual telephones follow up, home visits, special reminders, regular appointments/ refill reminders.
While failing to adhere to treatment plans can adversely affect individuals with any general medical condition, Non- adherence to anti-epileptic drugs results to increased risk of status epilepticus (prolonged seizures) resulting into brain damage, SUDEP, risk of injuries, increase rates of admission to hospital due prolonged seizures. The consequences of not taking medication can be more immediate with epilepsy.
Epilepsy as a chronic condition relies heavily on adherence to medical advice in order to maximize an individual’s quality of life by controlling seizures more effectively while avoiding unwanted side-effects. Treatment of those diagnosed with epilepsy the vast majorities are treated with AEDs and approximately 70% can become seizure-free once the most effective regime is followed.
Monotherapy is viewed as the initial and preferential option for treating epilepsy, the choice of drug depending on seizure type and effectiveness of the drug balanced against possible side-effects. It is difficult to find estimates of how many people are on monotherapy or polytherapy at any one point in time.
However, in one of the cases I encountered that of Sarafina Muthoni from Banana, Kiambu County, she was diagnosed with Epilepsy at a very young age in her primary school days. With no history of such a condition in her family, it got everybody thinking what could have gone wrong with their lovely daughter. After days of trying to figure out, the family had to adapt to reality of their daughter living with Epilepsy. She was lucky to have very supportive parents ready to see her through the long journey of treating the condition. The motivation and support from her loved ones to access medication improved her status by far as she continued to adhere to the prescribed treatment. Unfortunately, the support didn’t last long and the burden of continuing with treatment squarely relied on her. This adversely contributed to the beginning of non-adherence to medication for lack of funds to buy drugs. Not only were finances a challenge but also finding a good hospital to comply was a problem.
Muthoni had to live with the sad reality of pain every time she experienced a seizure. Pain which she clearly knew with access to medication the situation could by far be controlled. At the very worse of her situation she found help. Cheshire Disability Services Kenya (CDSK) a Non-Governmental Organization in Kenya whose objective is to empower an inclusive society of persons with disability and develop their full potential to lead a quality life, in partnership with Kenya Association of People with Epilepsy (KAWE) came for Muthonis’ rescue.
Under CDSK’s program to help Epilepsy patients’ access medication and ensure compliance, Muthoni benefited and today she leads a life full of potential and energy as she explores her skills as a beauty and hair stylist.
As we celebrate International Epilepsy Day on Feb 12th 2018, themed on “Life is beautiful”, Muthoni’s story is a highlight of what beauty is all about. Hers’ is just but one of the many inspiring stories to celebrate during this season of Epilepsy Awareness.
Adherence to medication regardless of medical condition remains an important problem in treatment. Factors that have been discussed here – side-effects, drug regime, family support, impact on everyday life, relationship with the clinician – are unlikely to be the only predictors of adherence. While adherence to treatment within the context of epilepsy has been the focus of this review, these factors can equally be applied to various chronic conditions.
Assessment of adherence should be a routine part of management of epilepsy. Further recognition and support should be given to patients who have poor seizure control since they are more likely to be more anxious and have unhelpful illness and treatment beliefs.
Finally, patients may be fully aware of the importance of taking AED medication and the benefits gained by altering their lifestyle choices in order to prevent seizures, but will make a decision about the degree to which they follow advice. Patients only have a small amount of time in contact with the clinician in their “patient role”, after which they return to the practicalities of their everyday routine where their adherence fluctuates based on how they feel their medication affects their quality of life.
Strategies to manage adherence originate from different perspectives. While the medical model may advocate less complex drug regimes, the use of measured pill containers, and minimization of side-effects, the psychosocial model analyzes non-adherence in terms of patient attitudes to medication, stigma, family and peer influences, and ability to manage self care. Neither model can adequately improve adherence independently. Perhaps the best approach is to offer a “menu” of adherence-enhancing strategies. However, what is increasingly clear from both models is that total adherence is an unrealistic goal. The emphasis has shifted away from total adherence towards a compromise with both patient and clinician involved in a joint process of treatment negotiation and decision-making in order to achieve the best outcome for the individual.