From driving and working out to ordering a pizza and binge-watching reality TV, it’s important to remember that the majority of people living with epilepsy live completely normal lives. Aside from a universal warning for literally everyone to maybe not watch one more episode on a Wednesday night, there are some important things people with epilepsy and those close to them should consider.
Every home should feel comfortable, happy and most importantly, safe. This is especially true for people with epilepsy, as the importance of safety at home cannot be overstated. But with some caution and simple adaptations, many potential dangers and incidents can be easily prevented.
Let’s start with the things you should consider no matter which room you’re in. Once you’ve made these tips habits, you’ll barely notice you’re doing them anymore and you’ll have created a much safer environment.
- Use appliances with an automatic shut-off.
- Avoid the use of candles if you are home alone and don’t walk around carrying lit candles.
- If you use a space heater, be sure it can’t tip over and place at a safe distance to ensure it won’t be knocked over if a seizure occurs.
- Use a safety gate around stairwells to prevent children from falling down stairs.
- Avoid climbing on ladders, chairs and other objects, especially if you are home alone.
- Avoid the use of power tools, which can cause serious injury if a seizure occurs.
- Lock doors when home alone if there is any danger of wandering during a seizure, and to keep children safe.
A nice, warm bath or shower can be a wonderful way to relax and de-stress. But for someone with epilepsy, it can also be extremely dangerous – in fact, people have been known to drown in less than two minutes in water with a depth of less than two inches. Someone entering the clonic phase of a seizure could easily slip without a sound and drown without anyone in the house hearing a thing. With that in mind, it’s important to always:
- Leave the bathroom door unlocked.
- Have someone else in the home with you who can check in on you – frequently!
- Consider a shower bench (ask your physician for a referral to a home medical supplier) and a hand held shower over a bath.
- Place a rubber mat on the shower floor.
- Place padding on the edges of the bath and consider a padded toilet seat.
- If you are alone, consider a sponge bath.
- Avoid glass doors on your tub and/or shower.
- Do not use electrical appliances in the bathroom or near water.
- Keep your hot water heater turned down enough that hot water will not scald.
- Turn on the cold water first.
With a few simple adaptations and consistent caution, cooking can be significantly safer for everyone in the home. One of the easiest things you can do to instantly make everything safer is, if possible, always have someone else in the house while cooking. The microwave is also an easy, extremely safe option. Some other things to consider (most of which everyone with and without epilepsy should probably be doing anyway!):
- Try to select a stove with controls at the front.
- Use the back burners when you can and turn handles of saucepans to face the back of the stove.
- Try to select appliances with automatic shut-off features.
- Avoid kitchen tools like automatic egg beaters or electric knives.
- Use plastic dinnerware as opposed to glass.
- Wear rubber gloves when washing dishes.
- When loading the dishwasher, point knives and other sharp objects downward.
- Less climbing to reach household items that are often used will minimize your risk of injury. Be sure to store these items where they can be easily accessed.
- Try not to carry large amounts of hot food to the table – serve directly from the stove or countertop – and don’t forget to use oven mitts.
- Limit the time spent cutting and chopping food.
Some people think the kitchen is the heart of the home, but if you ask us, it’s the living room. Maybe we just love our cozy couch too much. Either way, when you retire to relax in your living room or switch on your television, considering the following:
- Hanging lamps are recommended over table lamps.
- Avoid use of breakable objects, such as glass top coffee tables. There are many “soft” styled coffee tables on the market.
- Use soft furnishings with rounded corners instead of furnishings with hard or sharp edges.
- Choose chairs with armrests to help reduce falling.
- Use carpeting with a thick underlay.
If you are photosensitive, it is also important to:
- Keep TVs in good repair.
- Do not sit too close to the television.
- Watch TV at a 45 degree angle.
- Keep a light on (above and behind the viewer) to reduce light contrast.
Whether you have epilepsy or not, the doctor is likely going to say the same thing: try to get more exercise. While working out is good for everyone – thus that universal advice – it’s actually been found that in most cases it favorably affects epilepsy by reducing the tension and stress that can trigger a seizure. But whether you’re hitting the beach for some fun or the pool for some fitness, it’s paramount that you minimize the possibility of a preventable – and potentially fatal – incident.
- Do not Swim alone. Swim with a friend, and preferably in an area that is supervised by a National Lifesaving Society (NLS) trained lifeguard. Supervision while swimming is important for anyone and it is even more important for someone who has a seizure disorder. This is especially true if the person does not experience an aura prior to a seizure and/or has difficulty maintaining seizure control.
- Know your body and your seizures. If you experience an aura, let someone know and get out of the water. Knowing your triggers (stress included!) can help you avoid swimming when you’re at risk.
- Stay close to children. Under no circumstances should a child be left unsupervised around water, especially if there is a diagnosed seizure disorder. Stay within arms-reach, maintaining a close watch, and be sure that others supervising are aware of the child’s epilepsy and how to help (preferably an NLS trained lifeguard). If the child does not know how to swim, use an approved life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).
- Limit the number of inflatable water toys, and if you have a home pool, remove them from the water after swim time. This will minimize the risk of a child falling into the water trying to reach them. Keep your home pool gated and locked when not in use.
- If seizures are brought-on by bright or flickering lights, it is important to realize that the lights reflecting off splashing water may trigger seizure activity. Blue, polarized sunglasses worn during outdoor activities can help minimize this risk. Note: Photosensitive epilepsy is relatively rare. It is estimated that less than five per cent of those with epilepsy are photosensitive.
- Because hyperventilation can be a triggering mechanism in seizure activity, the deep, fast breathing required in competitive or aggressive swimming may cause seizures. Therefore, appropriate self-pacing techniques should be used.
- If on a boat, wear an approved life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) and practice safety and common sense before starting out. Avoid the use of alcohol (which can trigger a seizure), drive at a safe speed when on a powerboat, be aware of weather conditions, and do not go out alone.
- Call out for help.
- Approach the person while maintaining your own safety.
- Turn the person over if they are face-down in the water.
- Support the head during the seizure.
- Remove the person from the water after the seizure has stopped.
- If you’re on a pool deck, place something soft under their head and allow the seizure to take its course.
For information on how to become first aid trained, or for information on taking a Lifesaving Society course, please visit www.lifesaving.org
Driving and Epilepsy
Can people with epilepsy drive? Absolutely. In fact, drivers with epilepsy have a lower rate of non-seizure related accidents than the general population. So, not only can they drive, but they’re really good at it. We’re not saying it’s going to happen, but don’t be surprised if the next Fast and Furious character has epilepsy…
That being said, driving is a privilege and it’s incredibly important for not only your safety but everyone’s that if you have epilepsy you are still fit to drive. That’s why in Alberta drivers are required by law to report any health condition that may affect their ability to drive, including epilepsy or a seizure disorder.
It’s not mandatory for physicians to report their patients who have a health condition that may affect their driving. That’s your job. But your doctor is the best person who can help you determine if you should still be driving. If your physician decides you shouldn’t be driving because you are not seizure free, they do have the discretion to report it if you do continue to drive.
What Happens Once You Report Your Condition To Alberta Transportation
So, you’ve obeyed the law and reported your condition the Alberta Transportation. What happens next? Well, your driving privileges may be suspended. It’s not all bad news, though. In most cases, once you have been seizure free for six months and have a favourable recommendation from your doctor you may apply to have your license reinstated.
To have your license reinstated, a Medical Review committee will look carefully at your individual case and make a personalized assessment based on the following criteria:
- The physician feels the individual is being truthful about the frequency of seizures;
- The physician believes the individual to be a conscientious person who will take medication in the manner prescribed and follow all the physician’s instructions carefully;
- The applicant is under regular medical supervision so that the physician will at once become aware of any further seizure activity; and,
- The seizures appear to be controlled by medication, and the medication does not cause significant side effects that would impair driving.
You may be required to sign a declaration upon renewal regarding the seriousness of providing false information. Other situations involving the reinstatement of, or changes to a driver’s license include:
- A person with epilepsy who has been seizure-free on medication for 1 year and whose seizures recur after medication was stopped on the physician’s instructions may drive after resuming medication.
- A person with epilepsy who has been seizure free on or off medication for 5 years may be considered for any class of license.
- A person with epilepsy who has seizures only when asleep or immediately upon awakening may be considered for a Class 5 or 6 license if they have satisfactory waking EEG’s and are subject to regular medical supervision. They may hold any class of license if they have been seizure free for 5 years on or off medication.
- A person with focal aware seizures involving a single limb and with no impairment of consciousness may be considered for a Class 5 or 6 license following a satisfactory neurological assessment and any Class of license after 3 years from the initial seizure with no generalized seizures nor impairment of consciousness.
- Someone experiencing a single unprovoked seizure may not be eligible for any class of license until a complete satisfactory neurological assessment has been conducted. They may then be considered for any class of licence once they have been seizure free for one year and there are no signs of epileptiform activity.
Epilepsy and Car Insurance
Awesome news: you’ve got your license reinstated. Less awesome news: it’s time to take care of your car insurance. Fortunately, it may not change at all.
That being said, you are required to advise your insurance company about your condition. If you don’t your policy may become invalid in the event of an accident – no matter the cause or whose fault. That can be expensive. Like, millions of dollars expensive. Probably not a risk you should take.
So, chat with your insurance provider. Bring them a letter from your doctor and your license. You’ll be eligible for insurance and if you’re one of those awesome drivers we talked about earlier, your rates may not even go up.
However, like everything in life you may need to shop around. It might even be to your benefit to go in person and chat with the underwriter. Since their personal judgement plays a factor, it can be beneficial for them to see you healthy and able-bodied. We’re working as hard as we can to crush the stigma, but as we know, it’s still out there.
Safe Driving Tips
Pardon us for a minute, but we’re going to backseat drive. But trust us, it’ll be helpful.
We’ve got some helpful tips, we promise.
- Report all seizures to your physician and if you have a break through seizure talk to your physician immediately to determine the cause. If you are having seizures do not drive.
- Take your medications in the manner prescribed. If you miss a dose do not drive until you resume your medications
- If your drug treatment plan is being changed to another drug or different dose wait to see how it will affect you before driving.
- Avoid driving when you are tired.
- Do not drive for long periods of time without breaks. If possible consider a driving partner for long trips to reduce your time driving.
- Do not skip meals or go for long periods of time without sleep.
- Everyone should avoid alcohol before driving, this is even more important for someone with epilepsy.
- If you have photosensitive epilepsy wear polarized sunglasses.
- Know your triggers and avoid/manage them.
- Avoid driving when experiencing strong emotions, or when you are highly stressed.
- For trips of long distances consider other modes of transportation such as bus or plane. In some cases, transportation companies will allow a caregiver to travel at no cost if care is/may be required during the trip. Ask when booking what the policies for an escort are.
- Consider carpooling as a way of rotating driving schedules to reduce the amount of time spent driving.
- If you are unable to drive, public transportation is available. Perhaps there are situations where family, friends, and peers can help—especially if you can assist with covering the cost of fuel. We understand that this can be a challenging, and difficult transition to make. In some situations you may qualify for services such as the Handi-Bus. EAC staff can make referrals to available services. Additionally, EAC has some resources available to help people with limited finances attend EAC activities and important appointments, such as a doctor’s appointment.