Jane Manwaring had always prided herself on having a good memory so when she found herself unable to recall important moments of her life, she knew deep down that there was a problem.
She said: 'I was 51 when I began to worry that my memory wasn’t what it used to be. Tony, my husband, would chat to me about lovely places we’d been to or happy times we’d shared together and I just couldn’t remember – it was very upsetting.
'Sometimes I could remember part of a memory, like a holiday we’d been on, but I struggled with actual specifics, I couldn’t picture myself in my mind’s eye doing the things people said I had done.'
She mentioned her secret fears to friends who were supportive but joked that age and hormones were causing them all to forget things! And although Jane laughed along with their theory, she was not convinced.
It was only when she began experiencing strong feelings of déja vu that she started to get really concerned. She said: 'One day while I was doing the ironing I had a very strong sense of déjà vu. Obviously, I do the ironing all the time but it was as if time and space had stood still, everything in the room was the same as before and even the atmosphere felt the same – it was a horrible feeling, very disconcerting.'
Fear of dementia
Jane’s biggest fear was that she was in the early stages of dementia. She said: 'I’ve worked for years as a practice nurse so I knew things weren’t right, but I couldn’t work out what was wrong. When my doctor suggested tests I was desperately worried, but I knew I had to go through with them. I was overwhelmed with relief when the results came back negative for dementia, and although the tests showed that my memory wasn’t great I just decided to put up with it just get on with my life. '
However as time progressed, the déja vu became more frequent and intense and often left Jane feeling tired and sick. Again she saw her GP and, although she wasn’t feeling depressed, was given a prescription for anti depressants despite her protests that she didn’t want or need them.
'My instincts were right,' she said, 'I tried them for a few weeks but they didn’t make any difference. So I stopped taking them and again tried to get on with my life as best I could.'
It was only when Jane visited a locum GP, on a completely different health matter that things started to be resolved.
'Three years after my memory problems first began I saw a new doctor. She had obviously read up on me before my appointment and asked if I was still suffering from déja vu and memory problems. When I told her I was she suggested a referral to a neurologist as she thought my symptoms could be due to epilepsy.
'I was amazed, even with my background in nursing, epilepsy was just something I had never considered. At that time I had no idea that there were more than 40 different types of epileptic seizures – déja vu being one of them. '
Diagnosis at last
The second set of tests did indeed prove that Jane had epilepsy and what she was experiencing were complex partial seizures in the temporal lobe area of her brain which is responsible for memory function. Jane said: “At this stage I was just happy to finally have a diagnosis and a specific reason why I kept experiencing déja vu. The major downside was that I immediately had to surrender my driving licence.
Anti-epileptic drugs were prescribed to try and stop the seizures, but none proved suitable. Jane’s liver reacted badly to the first drugs she tried and the second drug failed to control the seizures. Jane began to feel very dejected and for the first time started to feel depressed.
In desperation she asked for a referral to the Epilepsy Society’s Chalfont Centre in Buckinghamshire where she was reassessed and given new medication. Her epilepsy is now controlled with anti-epileptic drugs and Jane remains seizure free. She is driving again and her life is happily back on track although she is the first to admit that she gets sad and frustrated that she sometimes can’t recall the important times she has shared with family and friends, especially when they involve special moments in her daughter Lucy’s life
Although Jane is fairly pragmatic about her epilepsy she sometimes feels annoyed that it wasn’t treated sooner. She said: 'I’m a practice nurse and I had no idea that I had epilepsy. I would say to anyone who knows something is not quite right to follow your instincts and keep knocking on doors until you get the help you need.'
Jane considers herself lucky as without treatment her seizures could have become more serious. Anyone wanting to know more about the different types of epileptic seizures can find information here.