If you have a brother or a sister with epilepsy, you are not the only one. In the UK, around 51,500 children have epilepsy – that's enough children to fill 715 London buses!
Many of them also have brothers and sisters. Like many other brothers and sisters, you probably have lots of questions about epilepsy. You might also want to know how to deal with your own feelings about it.
This information is to answer some of your questions. It will also tell you where you can get more help and support.
What is epilepsy and what are seizures?
Epilepsy is a medical condition caused by something unusual that happens in a person's brain. It sometimes causes them to have seizures. Some people have other names for seizures – they might call them fits, convulsions, attacks, funny turns or something else. Your family might have your own name to call your brother's seizures.
You can read all about epilepsy and seizures on Epilepsy Action's pages for children.
Top tip You may have questions about epilepsy. An epilepsy nurse is a good person to ask. Make a list of any questions you have and ask them next time you both go to an appointment with an epilepsy nurse.
Can I get epilepsy too?
Some brothers and sisters worry about getting epilepsy too. But you won't get it just because your brother has it.
Anyone can get epilepsy, and often doctors don't know why it happens. People are most likely to develop epilepsy when they are under the age of five or over the age of 65.
It is not anyone's fault that your brother has epilepsy.
Top tip – Remember that you cannot catch epilepsy. It is not passed on from someone else, like a cold or flu.
My brother has another condition as well as epilepsy
Some children who have epilepsy also have other conditions. Some of these are:
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- Learning disabilities
- Tuberous sclerosis
Your parent will probably have already told you if your brother has another condition. If you are not sure, you can ask them.
Top tip – You can find out more about other disabilities or conditions on the YoungSibs pages about disability
Having fun with my brother
Are there things my brother can't do because of his epilepsy?
Most people with epilepsy live ordinary lives and do what everyone else does. Lots of people with epilepsy go to school, college or university and have a job. They can have families of their own if they want to.
Sometimes your brother might need to do some things differently to you. This is to make sure he would be safe if he had a seizure. He might:
- Avoid places where he could get hurt if he had seizure, such as up a ladder or tree, or near water
- Have a shower instead of a bath, unless there is an adult with him
- Always wear a safety helmet when he's on his bike and only cycle in places away from roads (brothers and sisters need to wear helmets too)
- Make sure there is always a grown up watching when he is swimming
Some people with epilepsy cannot look at flashing lights, because that can make them have a seizure. This is called photosensitive epilepsy. Not many children have this - your parent will tell you if your brother does.
Top tip – Ask your parent to tell you about things that your brother needs to do in a different way to you.
I like having fun with my brother who has epilepsy
It's good to have fun together. It makes us feel better and is good for our health. You might like:
- Chatting together
- Playing games
- Dressing up
- Watching films
- Doing sports
Top tip – Together make a list of all the fun things you can do when you have time together.
How can I help my brother?
How can I help my brother who has epilepsy?
There are lots of ways brothers and sisters can help. Here are some suggestions:
- Spend time together, playing and having fun
- Chat and listen to your brother if he wants to talk about how he feels
- Tell him that you care about him
- If your brother misses something at school or at home when he has a seizure, tell him about it later. Draw a picture of it for him or write about it
Top tip – Treat your brother just like everyone else. Keep doing the things you enjoy together.
What should I do if my brother has a seizure?
If your brother has a seizure and falls down, get a grown up to help, as quickly as you can.
If you can't find a grown up straight away, here are some things you can do:
- Keep as calm as you can
- Put something soft under his head, like a pillow, cushion or coat
- When your brother stops moving around, roll him onto his side, if that is easy for you to do. This can help him to breathe
- Find a grown up as soon as you can
- Don't put anything in your brother's mouth
- Don't give him anything to eat or drink
If a grown up wants to know more about first aid for seizures, tell them about Epilepsy Action's website. They will find lots of information about first aid.
Ask your parent, or another adult who looks after you, to put a plan about how to help your brother during a seizure, on the fridge door.
Top tip – Practice with your parent what you need to do during a seizure. This will help you to feel more confident about it.
What can help me?
Is there more help for brothers and sisters of children and young people with epilepsy?
YoungSibs is an online support service for brothers and sisters aged 6-17. It is just for children and young people who have a brother or sister who is disabled, or has special educational needs, or has a serious illness or medical condition.
At YoungSibs you can:
- Ask questions about issues to do with your brother or sister from the YoungSibs team
- Find information about different conditions and disabilities for brothers and sisters
- Find tips for dealing with your feelings as a brother or sister
- Find tips for dealing with difficult situations as a brother or sister
- Find ideas for enjoying family life as a brother or sister
- Join a forum to chat to other brothers and sisters in the UK
Some of the other places you can get help from are:
- Your school - As well as teachers, schools have mentors and counsellors for pupils to talk to about their feelings and problems
- ChildLine - This is a 24 hour online and telephone support service for children and young people with any issue they are worried about. It's free to call
- Tel: 0800 1111
- YoungCarers - This is an online support service for children and young people who help to look after someone in their family
- Contact - Tell your parents about a guide to supporting you
Top tip – There is information and support for you as the brother or sister of someone with epilepsy. It is OK to ask for help if you need it.
Remember – brothers and sisters are very important too
We think that you are really important and that people should know about how:
- You support your brother with epilepsy
- You help other people understand epilepsy better
- You have to deal with some difficult stuff at times
- You often put your brother's needs first
It is OK to ask for information and support for yourself when you have a brother with epilepsy.
Content written by Sibs
Sibs is the UK charity for brothers and sisters of disabled children and adults.
My brother who has epilepsy gets more attention than me
Your parents might need to give your brother extra help and attention because of his epilepsy. This might not always feel fair, and it's normal for brothers and sisters to feel jealous.
Getting time with your parents is really important. It can make you feel good.
Top tip – Ask your parent to spend some time with you every day, doing something that you enjoy.
I worry about my how epilepsy affects my brother
It is normal for brothers and sisters to worry at times. You might worry about your brother:
- having a seizure
- coping at school
- being in hospital
- Giving your parent lots to do
Worrying might make it hard for you to sleep or to concentrate at school. Here are some things that can help:
- Tell your parent or teacher about your worries – they prefer to know about them, so they can help you
- Write down your worries in a diary - this helps to get them out of your head
- Send a letter to YoungSibs and they will give you ideas to help sort your worries out
- If you are very worried or upset about something, call ChildLine at any time of the day or night, Tel: 0800 1111
I don't like it when my brother who has epilepsy has to go to hospital
Sometimes children with epilepsy have to go to hospital when they have a seizure. This can be a really hard time for brothers and sisters. You might:
- Worry that you will miss your parent if they stay in hospital with your brother
- Worry about whether your brother is going to be OK
- Worry about who is going to look after you when your parent is away
- Find it hard that everyone is looking after your brother and not noticing you
Top tip - Ask your parent to make a plan for hospital trips, so that you know what will happen and who will look after you.
I feel frightened when my brother has a seizure
It's normal to feel frightened when you see someone having a seizure, especially if they fall down. Here are some things you can do, to help you feel less frightened.
- Find out as much as you can about epilepsy and seizures, so you understand it better.
- Ask your brother and parent to describe what happens when he has a seizure. If you know what to expect, it's less frightening.
- Learn what to do when a seizure happens. This will help you feel calmer.
- When a seizure is happening and a grown up is dealing with it, do something that helps you feel calm. For example, you could listen to music, count slowly to ten, take long slow breaths or stroke a pet.
- When your brother is feeling better, talk to your parent about how you felt when the seizure happened
Top tip – Learn about seizures so that you understand what is happening.
I feel responsible for looking after my brother who has epilepsy
There might be times that you look after your brother. This might be:
- If your parent or another grown up is busy, and has asked you to make sure your brother is safe
- At school – you might feel that you have to look out for him in case he has a seizure
- At night - if you sleep in the same bedroom you might be listening out for your brother
- If your brother has other conditions and you help look after him
If you are worried that you have too much responsibility, ask your parent if other grown-ups can look after your brother instead.
If you do a lot of caring for your brother, you might be called a young carer. As a young carer, you might not have enough time to do your homework or have time for yourself.
Top tip – Tell your teacher if you think you have too much responsibility for looking after your brother.
I feel proud of my brother who has epilepsy
Many people feel proud about their brother or sister. You might feel proud of yours because he has achieved things, or because he has a good attitude about things.
Top tip – Write a list of things about your brother that make you feel proud, and then give it to him.
I have learned lots of things because my brother has epilepsy
You have probably learned stuff that other children and young people don't know about. You might know:
- How to help someone who is having a seizure
- How to stay calm in an emergency
- How to explain epilepsy to people
- What type of jobs the different medical people do
Top tip – Make a list of all the things you have learned because of your brother's epilepsy and be proud of your skills.
I feel sad that my brother has epilepsy
It is normal for brothers and sisters to feel sad at times. You might feel sad if:
- Your brother has to go to hospital
- Your brother is resting after a seizure, and cannot play with you or go out
- You don't have anyone to talk to about your feelings
These are some things you can do to feel better:
- Ask your parent to give you a hug
- Talk to your parent or friend about how you feel
- Write your feelings down in a diary
Top tip – If you feel sad a lot of the time tell your parent or teacher. They can get help for you in school to deal with this.
I feel angry that my brother has epilepsy
It's normal to feel angry sometimes, when someone you know has a medical condition. You might feel angry because:
- It doesn't seem fair that your brother has epilepsy
- You don't like it when family activities need to be changed
- Other children say things about your brother that you don't like
These are some things you can do:
- Write down how you feel or draw a picture of how you feel
- Talk to your parent or a teacher about your feelings
- Do things to get calm again – count to ten slowly, listen to music, breathe deeply and slowly
Top tip – It is OK to feel angry. However, it is not OK to hit people or say nasty things to them. If you feel angry a lot of the time, ask your teacher to help you with this.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Sibs, the UK charity for brothers and sisters of disabled children and adults.
Sibs have kindly prepared the information on this page. It is based on their own research, experience and expertise.