Temporal Lobe Epilepsy & Changes in Personality

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common cause of partial or focal seizures. It has unique symptoms and is also associated with personality changes. In this lesson, we will look closer at temporal lobe epilepsy and the personality changes that can occur.

Temporal Lobe of the Brain

The brain is the control center of our body. There are two sides of the brain called hemispheres. Each hemisphere has four lobes. Each lobe has specific functions that it controls.

Parts of the Brain

The temporal lobe is located behind the temple (behind your ear). It is responsible for emotions and short-term memory as well as processing auditory input. It helps you comprehend the sounds that you hear!

Understanding what the temporal lobe does helps us understand the symptoms that are associated with a seizure that occurs in this part of the brain.

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Seizures occur when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Partial seizures occur in only one hemisphere of the brain. In simple partial seizures, the seizure activity affects a small area of the brain and the person retains awareness. In complex partial seizures, a larger area of the brain is affected and a person loses awareness during the seizure.

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) describes the abnormal electrical activity that occurs within the temporal lobe of the brain. TLE is the most common type of partial seizure, affecting 60% of people with epilepsy.

Some people experience an aura which is actually a simple partial seizure. An aura may be a feeling such as de ja vu. Or, you may be in your own home but everything feels strange to you. You may hear music playing when it isn't, voices when no one is there, or smell or taste something that isn't present. These symptoms can last for a few seconds up to a couple minutes.

A complex partial seizure affecting the temporal lobe may be manifest as someone staring straight ahead, looking like they are awake, but unresponsive. They have impaired awareness and will not respond or be aware of what is happening. They may be fumbling with their fingers or smacking their lips. Some people have repeated swallowing or chewing motions or awkward arm positions. In addition, some people will experience jerking motions associated with other types of seizures.

These seizures can vary greatly. Some people hardly notice something happened and others may be overcome with fear. Some may experience intrigue and even pleasure. One identifying symptom commonly associated with TLE is stomach upset.

Many people wouldn't even imagine these as symptoms of a seizure! This can make it difficult to accurately diagnose. There also seem to be features associated with psychiatric disorders connected with TLE that can complicate diagnosis.

Personality Changes with TLE

Around one-third of people with TLE do not respond to medication. People with uncontrolled epilepsy experience memory and socialization problems. Some people become afraid to leave the house. This can greatly decrease their quality of life.

There also seems to be a connection between temporal lobe epilepsy and personality changes. Some changes that have been reported include being very orderly and detailed with their speech and actions, resembling obsessive-compulsive disorder. They likely have decreased sexual interest and arousal. Although they primarily demonstrate a very easy going, pleasant demeanor, they will have outbursts of irritability. These outbursts are episodes that they are later remorseful for.

These seizures can be hard to identify and diagnose. A person may appear to have panic attacks and even be incapacitated by them. Another person may trigger psychotic symptoms caused by lack of sleep and food because of an obsession with a work project. Paranoia is a common feature. Through experienced and attentive medical help, doctors can identify if a person has mental health issues or if the symptoms are actually associated with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Lesson Summary

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is seizure activity affecting the temporal lobe of the brain. This is a type of partial seizure meaning it occurs on only one hemisphere of the brain.

Simple partial seizures affect a small area of the brain and the person retains awareness. These are often called auras and can be described as a feeling of de ja vu. Some people hear music or voices and some will experience a certain taste or smell.

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