5 of the Best Ways to Help a Loved One with Epilepsy

July 20, 2021


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Around 65 million people globally are epileptic. And although epilepsy affects so many, it is a strange and mysterious illness that we still don't fully understand. Some theologists and doctors alike attribute the disease to the misinterpretation of demonic possession going back centuries. Along with comorbidities such as depression and paranoid schizophrenia, epileptic episodes can be terrifying to those who have never seen them. As they don't understand it, they can apply misguided religious ideals to a purely medical issue.

This is because the condition has a wide range of side effects. When someone experiences a seizure, symptoms range from a loss of awareness to a loss of consciousness. Some of the worst include complete loss of consciousness combined with sudden jerking, grotesque facial and body movements, and incontinence. In addition, following a seizure, an epileptic patient can experience depression, extreme fatigue, and emotional imbalance. 

Epilepsy and its symptoms and effects are both embarrassing for the patient and frightening to witness. But some of the most reassuring things you can do are:

  • Be Aware of Further Issues

  • Stay Calm and Assist

  • Give Them Time to Recover

  • Record Episodes and Keep Track

  • Explain the Situation to Others

There are numerous issues associated with epilepsy, so the condition itself is exacerbated. Should a family member or friend experience a seizure, you should stay calm and render appropriate assistance. Following an episode, a patient can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 7 days to recover. Recording seizures on your phone and tracking the details can help with controlling them or with diagnosis. Attacks are not exactly pleasant to witness and can be misinterpreted as something else, so explaining the situation to family, friends, and bystanders helps with their understanding of what's happening. 

Be Aware of Further Issues

Like other significant medical problems, it isn't uncommon for epilepsy to be associated with or accompanied by further medical issues. The comorbidities and hearing loss thereof is a prime example; issues such as Alzheimer's and diabetes can accompany a loss of hearing. In terms of epilepsy, comorbidities can include severe depression, emotional instability, anxiety, paranoia, and sensory hallucinations.

How these issues present themselves varies from patient to patient. For example, it may be the case that epilepsy coexists alongside long-term depressive disorders such as bipolar. Or depression may surface before or following a seizure. Such cases can be thought of as indicators that an episode is about to occur, similar to how some epileptics describe the feeling of an aura. But unlike auras, other mental issues can present themselves days before, rather than minutes, and last for days after.

Stay Calm and Assist

Witnessing a seizure for the first time can be extraordinarily intense and frightening. Grand mal seizures can cause violent and seemingly impossible body and facial contortions, as highlighted in the excellent movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The movie is more a commentary on epilepsy and its treatment rather than horror. While it isn't fair to compare epilepsy to demonic possession, if there is such a thing, the point is that there is nothing to be afraid of as long as you stay calm and render assistance as best you can.

One of the most common mistakes people make is placing something to bite inside an epileptic's mouth during a seizure. Under no circumstances should you do this. It could injure both yourself and the patient. This was done to stop someone from swallowing their tongue, which many people don't realize is impossible. Instead, try to roll a patient onto their side and support their head if you are able. Then, just allow the seizure to finish. They can last between 20 seconds to a couple of minutes.  

If the seizure doesn't stop after 5 minutes, then call an ambulance. Paramedics use benzodiazepines to halt prolonged attacks.

Give Them Time to Recover

Post-seizure symptoms vary from person to person, but there are some common effects. These effects include extreme tiredness, emotions, uncontrollable laughing, anger, body pains, a bitten tongue, and depression or anxiety. Following a particularly prolonged seizure, there may also be some loss of awareness and temporary memory loss. In almost all cases, the patient will be fine after 20 minutes of rest, but a grand mal seizure can cause symptoms that last for a week.

This is one of the reasons why it can be difficult for some epileptics to keep a job for an extended period. Many employers simply don't care that you have an extremely debilitating illness. In addition, in most countries, epilepsy isn't classed as a disability. Therefore, the rights that apply to someone with self-induced CHD from smoking for 30 years (or even those with drug addictions in some nations) don't apply to someone born with epilepsy. 

Record Episodes and Keep Track

The case for keeping track of and/or recording episodes is a contended one. Some people don't believe that it makes a difference concerning seizures. However, keeping track of attacks and recording them can help when it comes to diagnosis, possible treatments, and identifying triggers. There are many forms of epilepsy, such as focal, absence, and grand mal. All have their own symptoms, and some epileptics experience multiple types at the same time.

Because of the many symptoms associated with seizures, they can be hard to describe, and the patient may not recall most of the experience. However, you can help a loved one with their illness by recording on your phone. This is of great help to doctors and medical staff involved in epilepsy care who can then see what is happening. Some people also record the type, time of day, duration, and what they were doing when a seizure occurred. This can help identify patterns to aid with reducing attacks.

Explain the Situation to Others

As mentioned, witnessing a seizure can be distressing for anyone watching, especially children. But once people know what is happening, they are usually helpful and will assist where they can. You should also ask people not to help. This sounds counterintuitive, but someone trying to help might be injured by a sudden spasm. They could also harm the patient by assisting in the wrong way - like putting a bit in their mouth.

Unfortunately, people are also quick to judge, and epilepsy can be perceived as another issue. One common mistake people make is assuming that an epileptic is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is obviously a concern where law enforcement is concerned. But services such as taxis and buses or public spaces have been known to refuse service to someone experiencing a seizure. Always explain what is happening and never be afraid to call medical help - paramedics will never criticize you for calling during an episode.

*contributed post*

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