My good friend Denise Brown of Caregiving.com is publishing “10 Tips for Caregivers” each day in November and my contribution of tips is for those caregivers caring for someone with epilepsy. (A friend of mine and I also wrote 10 Tips for Caregivers While Traveling which will be posted here and on Caregiving.com on Friday.)
This is going to sound crazy but I am stumped. Call it writer’s block or a brain freeze or the effects of it getting dark at 5:00 p.m. I am staring at a computer and have no idea what tips to give someone who is caring for someone with epilepsy.
Maybe it’s because epilepsy is normal to me. Robert has had epilepsy his entire life so seizures have never scared me but I know they can be scary. Now that Robert lives with me and Richard, I think I have to take it back that seizures are not scary. What scares me now is Robert’s long seizures (in his case, three to five minutes). His chest heaves as his breathing becomes labored, his hands twitch or tug at his clothes, he is unresponsive and the stop watch on my phone keeps racking up the seconds. The minutes. More minutes.
Okay, yeah, seizures can be scary.
Some of these 10 caregiving tips will focus on what to do when a person is having a seizure.
- Don’t panic. Reassure others in the area and explain what is happening. Robert’s seizures are called Complex Partial Seizures and they usually last 10 – 20 seconds. If you don’t know what to watch for, the seizure could easily be missed. During his last hospital stay, a nurse was helping him get dressed on discharge day. I was talking with the doctor but out of the corner of my eye I could tell the nurse was trying to get Robert to respond and he wasn’t answering her. I took one look at his head dropped down and to the right and his limp body and explained to her he was having a seizure. By the time I finished explaining this to her, he was awake and joking around with her. She looked surprised but I like to think she learned a little bit more about epilepsy that day.
- Keep the area clear. This is both during a seizure and in the general living area. When living independently, Robert has fallen on a lamp (which was on) during a seizure. As a guest in my small apartment many years ago, he fell on a glass tabletop. Through the years, he has hit the floor or sidewalk, dented walls with his head, fallen into coffee tables or tables and fallen against toilets so hard, he broke them. Robert lives with us now and is constantly supervised so it is no longer possible for him to fall on a lamp and sustain 3rd degree burns. His pathway is clear in case he has a seizure while walking and I keep him clear of glass or windows.
- Time the seizure. Even though Robert’s seizures usually last 10 – 20 seconds, I like to time them. If his seizure hits five minutes, I have medication to give him to stop the seizure. I have both Ativan and Diazepam – although I’ve only used Ativan for him so far.
- When to call the paramedics. It isn’t necessary to call 911 every time a seizure hits but if you are familiar with the seizures and a particular seizure is lasting longer than normal (and especially if they are longer than five minutes) or if the person has been injured or cannot breathe, call for help.
- Do not put anything into the person’s mouth. This is extremely important and also a good time to dispel the myth that people having a seizure can swallow their tongue. No they cannot. Not too long ago, I read a celebrity had helped someone with a seizure and they stuck a wallet in that person’s mouth so they wouldn’t swallow their tongue. I cannot believe this myth persists so help spread the word that it is not true.
- Turn the person on their side. If possible, turn the person on their side if they are on the floor (or have fallen) during a seizure. Move anything that might hurt the person out of the way. Do not try to stop the person from moving.
- Keep a seizure log. Keep track of the time of the seizure, the behavior of the person during the seizure as well as after the seizure, anything that immediately preceded the seizure (such as eating or showering). This is useful to give to the neurologist and to try to track any seizure “triggers.” Robert has a seizure almost every morning while getting cleaned up for the day. Seizures are not usually predictable so it is comforting to know I can “prepare” for the morning seizure. Probably one of the worst things about seizures is not knowing when they will strike. If anything, the log will allow you to look back to see if there are patterns to the seizures.
- Medical Equipment. Robert wears a helmet which has saved him from many head injuries. Unfortunately, he didn’t start wearing one when he should have (which was when he was a child and into young adulthood). If balance is an issue, then a walker may become necessary. I am holding off putting Robert into a wheelchair until absolutely necessary but we do use one when going on long excursions.
- See a neurologist regularly. It’s important to see a neurologist so he or she can adjust medications if needed or to inform the patient and caregiver of any new medications or treatments that might be available to help reduce the seizures.
- Educate yourself. 1 in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. 3 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy. 50,000 people in the United States die from epilepsy related reasons. These are just a few of the facts about epilepsy. There are several wonderful advocacy and educational organizations with lots more information on epilepsy and seizures. CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy) is one such organization and I was fortunate enough to be able to interview them for Epilepsy Awareness Month. For more facts about epilepsy and ways to help, please read the interview and visit their website.
I hope these 10 tips for those caregivers caring for someone with epilepsy have been helpful. Please let me know your own tips and experience with seizures and epilepsy in the comment section below.
Oh, and do me a favor and educate one person this month about epilepsy. Just work it into a regular conversation and tell them one fact. Epilepsy research is sadly underfunded and the more people know about epilepsy and talk about it the more research dollars we can get and the less stigma there will be about epilepsy.