Language skills remain largely unchanged following epilepsy surgery in childhood, according to new research published in the scientific journal Epilepsy and Behaviour.There have been few investigations into brain function after epilepsy surgery in childhood, and these have largely focused on memory and intelligence rather than language.During the current study, researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto, recruited 97 children who were being considered for epilepsy surgery. Sixty-one of the 97 subsequently underwent surgery.Following recruitment, subjects underwent an initial (baseline) assessment of their language skills, using standardised tests of picture naming, vocabulary, letter fluency, understanding and intelligence.  An average of seven years later, the participants (61 of whom had undergone surgery, 36 of whom had not) underwent ‘follow-up’ language assessment with the same types of tests.The researchers used the data to compare language between a range of population ‘categories’,  e.g. surgical vs non-surgical, pre-surgical vs post- surgical and seizure freedom vs seizure continuation.The results showed that the language performance of people who underwent surgery and those who didn’t were similar at baseline and at follow-up. This suggests that surgery itself does not have a detrimental effect on language skills in the longer term.The team found that children who had spent a larger proportion of their lives free of seizures at follow-up generally obtained higher scores in all language tasks. However, interestingly, this was only the case across comparison groups, because at an individual level no significant improvement in language was seen after seizures became controlled. This implies that the effects of uncontrolled seizures may prevent the improvement of language, even once seizures have stopped.The researchers also found that people who were older at the onset of epilepsy, those who had a higher IQ, and those who attained higher scores at baseline also tended to achieve higher scores at follow-up in all language tasks. People who had a localised, one-sided seizure focus tended to do better in some languages tasks at follow-up.Identifying the long-term effects of surgery in childhood on cognitive ability is important, because it provides information to doctors, families and people with epilepsy to allow them to make informed decisions about whether or not to pursue epilepsy surgery.Author: Dr Özge ÖzkayaClick here for more articles about other treatments for epilepsy.