Risks and Safety

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People take risks every day, but people who have seizures may have to deal with different risks. By becoming aware of potential risks and ways these can be lessened, activities can be safer and most people with epilepsy can live full and active lives.

Safety precautions should be sensible and relevant to the particular person involved, with a balance between risk and restrictions. Enjoy life as much as you can and don’t restrict activities to a point where your interests and fun are excluded.

Not everyone has the same risks and what may affect someone may not affect you. The risk of injury varies greatly and can depend on:

  • Type of seizures – people who have more severe seizures, clusters of seizures or frequent falls are at higher risk
  • Frequency of seizures – someone who has many seizures a day is more at risk.
  • Age – infants, children and older persons are more susceptible to injuries and accidents
  • Medications – people on multiple medications or very high doses may suffer side effects such as drowsiness, double vision, poor coordination
  • Participation in high risk activities – such as certain sports (eg. rock-climbing) with poor seizure control, drinking alcohol, taking drugs
  • Any other physical or neurological problems

Common accidents seen and ways to lessen the likelihood of accidents are listed below. It is important to remember this list is not exhaustive and some suggestions are not relevant to all people with epilepsy.
Safety at home

To reduce likelihood of cuts, bruises and abrasions

  • Reduce clutter, sharp or jutting edges and corners.
  • Use a shower curtain rather than a glass screen. You can also have Safety Glass . Also use a shower chair if necessary.
  • Reinforced glass doors are preferable or apply safety film to existing glass.
  • Use slip resistant flooring in wet areas such as the bathroom and laundry
  • Wear rubber gloves when washing dishes. When loading a dishwasher, position sharp edges downwards.
  • Use non-breakable crockery and cordless electrical appliances with automatic switch off.
  • Minimise the use of knives by buying pre-sliced food when possible.

To prevent burns

  • Hot water system and heaters need to be temperature controlled.
  • Avoid lightweight and free standing heaters. Wall mounted heaters are best. Place fixed safety guards around the fireplace.
  • Where possible use a hand held shower and always turn the cold water tap on first and off last.
  • It is preferable to use a microwave than a stove or oven. If using a stove, use the back elements and turn pot handles away when cooking.
  • Avoid carrying hot dishes of food or liquid by serving meals from the kitchen bench.
  • Do not light candles or fires when alone.

To prevent drowning

  • Never swim alone.
  • In spas, ensure that the water is not too hot.
  • Wear an approved life jacket for water activities, including boating and fishing.
  • Avoid water sports such as scuba and high board diving.
  • Showers pose less of a risk than a bath. If you only have a bath, use a hand-held shower attachment.
  • Do not shower or bathe whilst alone in the house if possible.
  • Shower at a time when seizures are less likely to happen.
  • Preferably have outward opening doors, sliding doors, half doors or doors that are easily removable fitted to the bathrooms.
  • Keep bathroom doors unlocked or have a Rescue Door installed.

To minimise serious injuries

  • Avoid high-risk activities like using a ladder, rock climbing without a harness or flying foxes.
  • Wear helmets when riding a bicycle, scooter, horse, or when roller-blading or skateboarding.
  • Choose a low bed and avoid sleeping on a top bunk.
  • Stand well back from the road or platform edge when waiting for a bus or train.
  • Bathroom floors may be less hazardous if rubber-backed mats or non-slip flooring are used.
  • Avoid living in accommodation with stairs.

To avoid suffocation

  • Try to sleep without a pillow or use a firm porous pillow. Anti-suffocation pillows  are also available.
  • Choose a low wide bed that has a firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet.
  • An alarm may help alert parents or carers to seizures at night. Baby monitors or intercoms may work for some, but there are also many seizure alarms on the market.

Avoiding accidental overdose of antiepileptic medication

  • All medications should be stored away out of reach of children and not be left in pockets and handbags.
  • If a dose of medication is missed, the next dose should be taken as normal. Do not double the dose.
  • Discuss possible reactions with your pharmacist and doctor before taking any other prescribed medications or over the counter medications.
  • Consult the doctor before altering the prescribed medication regime.

Seizures during sleep

Many families are concerned with the safety of their loved ones while they are asleep. This is of particular concern to parents of young children who have seizures and families of people living alone.

Family or parents should not stay awake watching for seizures. Everyone needs sleep, and this practice creates tiredness and dysfunction in the whole household.

Some suggestions to help overcome this concern are to:

  • Place a baby monitor in the child’s bedroom so parents can hear any abnormal noises (monitors available from most stores)
  • Try a monitor that detects movement when a child has a tonic clonic seizure (ring Epilepsy Action Australia – 1300 37 45 37 – or click here for more details)

Living alone

Living alone may or may not be a lifestyle choice. Many people who live alone enjoy their independence, which is important in maintaining self-esteem and control over one’s life.

A common concern for people with poorly controlled seizures living alone is what if a seizure occurs, causing injury, and nobody knows?

There are a number of alarms available that can help people who live alone, ranging from telephone alarms, personal alarms, fall alarms, and daily calls. These products are able to notify emergency assistance or family members should a seizure occur. There are a large variety of options available to suit most people. Costs and service types vary considerably.

Epilepsy Action Australia or your local council will have information on these kinds of services.

Some people may have worked out a routine with family or neighbours to either call, drop in or notice abnormal behaviour (eg. the blind not being raised, lights not on).
Medical identification

In the event of a seizure happening at a time when you are in public or with strangers, a medical ID bracelet or pendant will alert people to the fact you have epilepsy. This can reduce panic, make it more likely for appropriate help to occur and prevent unnecessary ambulance call-outs.

There are a number of reasons why we recommend wearing a medical ID bracelet if seizures are not fully controlled.

Some of these include:

  • Many members of public do not know the correct first aid for a seizure.
  • Incorrect first aid such as putting something in someone’s mouth or restraining them can cause injury to either party.
  • A large number of people would call an ambulance if they witnessed a seizure.

This is not always necessary and can prove an inconvenience for the person with epilepsy, mainly due to long waits in casualty and ambulance bills.

  • Some seizures may present as if the person is intoxicated or on drugs and they may be poorly managed in the community.
    • Some people have found themselves being questioned by police or taken to the local station.
    • Others are either confronted or avoided by members of the public.

We can give you advice about the different products available. Your pharmacist is also able to provide this information.

Safety begins with you!
For more information:

EAA Seizure Smart Safety Factsheet

Epilepsy Products

Seizure Precautions, safeguarding your home