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of everyone affected by epilepsy

Safety advice for people with epilepsy

Introduction

Like many people with epilepsy and their families, you may have concerns about your safety when you have a seizure. Seizures can put you at risk of accidents that can cause:

  • Bruises
  • Burns and scalds
  • Cuts
  • Drowning
  • Fractures
  • Head injuries

Epilepsy Action believes that it is very important that you are aware of these risks. This is because many of them can be prevented or reduced with a few, often simple, measures. This information has suggestions for ways you can make sure you are safer if you have a seizure.

Not all the suggestions will be right for everyone. For example, you may be seizure-free. Or, you might get a warning before you have a seizure and be able to remove yourself from dangerous situations. However, if your seizures are not fully controlled, you may find many of these suggestions helpful.

Some of these suggestions may be quite difficult, or expensive, for you to be able to put in place by yourself. You may be able to get some help with making your home safer from your local authority, if they believe that you need it. Contact your local social services agency or local authority for more information. You will find their details online, or in The Phonebook.

In this section

Safety around the house
Sport and leisure
Safety equipment
Parents with epilepsy caring for young children
Further information

Safety around the house

General safety at home

Suggestions for reducing the risk of burns and scalds

  • Make sure there are no trailing wires attached to appliances that could cause a fire or burns if pulled over. Cable tidies, available from DIY (hardware) stores, can keep wires out of the way
  • Use guards on heaters and radiators to stop you from falling directly onto them
  • Use a fire guard that is fixed to the wall, so it won’t move out of place if you fall on it Put free-standing heaters in places where they are least likely to be knocked over
  • Use a sensor hairdryer that turns itself off when it is put down
  • Don’t use heated appliances if you are alone – this includes hair dryers, irons, hair straighteners and curling tongs
  • Switch off heated appliances immediately after use and place them out of reach until they are cool
  • Have carpets with high wool content rather than high synthetic content, to reduce the risk of friction burns
  • Install smoke detectors, which can help be helpful in two ways:
    • They may alert other people if food is burning because you are having a seizure
    • They will let you know that food is burning if you have memory problems and sometimes forget what you are doing

Suggestions for reducing the risk of cuts, bruises, fractures and head injuries

  • Avoid having very hard floor surfaces - more cushioned flooring, such as carpets, linoleum, cork and rubber, will provide a softer landing if you fall
  • Keep stairs clear of obstructions at all times, to avoid tripping
  • Put a soft rug or carpet at the bottom of the stairs, to cushion any falls. Cover any edges that are sharp or stick out, for example on furniture. Edge and corner guards are available from many different retailers.
  • Use toughened safety glass or double glazing in windows or doors, or cover ordinary glass with safety film – contact your local glass merchant or DIY (hardware) store for more information
  • Make sure that any wide-opening upstairs windows or doors from upper balconies have suitable locks, so you can’t fall from them
  • Make sure there are no trailing wires that you could trip over. Cable tidies, available from DIY (hardware) stores, can keep wires out of the way
  • Where possible, use cordless versions of things like irons and kettles
  • For electrical items with long wires, use coiled leads, so you don’t trip over them

In the bathroom

If you have seizures, it is important to take extra care when bathing, because there is a risk of drowning during a seizure.

Suggestions for reducing the risk of drowning

  • Have a shower instead of a bath - it’s safer because the water runs away
  • Ask somebody to stay in the bathroom with you, or to wait outside the door, so they can hear if you have a seizure
  • Put ‘engaged/vacant’ signs on the bathroom door, instead of using locks
  • Have a bathroom door that opens outwards, or folds or slides open and closed. Then, if you fall against it during a seizure, you won’t block someone from getting in

In the bath

  • Keep the water depth shallow and turn off the taps before you get in, or
  • Don’t put the plug in, but sit in the bath with the water running from the taps or a shower attachment

 In the shower

  • Have a shower cubicle with a flat floor rather than a shower tray, so that water can’t collect

Suggestions for reducing the risk of cuts, bruises, fractures and head injuries

  • Make sure that any fittings are as flush to the wall as possible, to reduce the risk of banging against them if you fall
  • Have a separate shower cubicle, rather than a shower attachment over the bath
  • Use a shower screen made of plastic or safety glass, or a shower curtain
  • If the shower is over the bath, cover the taps with protective material, such as a thick towel, to avoid injury if you fall
  • If possible, sit down in the shower rather than stand up, to avoid injuries if you fall

Suggestions for reducing the risk of scalds

  • Make sure that the temperature controls work well and that there is a safety ‘cut-off’ in the shower

In the kitchen

Suggestions for reducing the risk of burns and scalds

  • Use a microwave rather than a gas or electric cooker
  • Place saucepans on the back burners and with the handles away from the edge of the cooker, so you can’t knock them over
  • Take plates or dishes to the cooker, rather than carrying hot pans to the table
  • Use a toaster instead of a grill to avoid the risk of burning food
  • Use kettle tippers and teapot pourers, to avoid the risk of spilling hot liquid

In the bedroom

If you have seizures when you are in bed, here are some suggestions for making your bedroom safer:

Suggestions for reducing the risk of burns and scalds:

  • Avoid putting your bed next to a radiator

Suggestions for reducing the risk of cuts, bruises, fractures and head injuries

  • Avoid putting your bed against a wall or next to a radiator, to prevent knocking your limbs
  • Put cushions, pillows or a mattress on the floor around the bed, to reduce injuries if you fall out of bed
  • Choose a low bed, so there is less distance to fall to the floor
  • Keep sharp-edged objects and furniture away from the bed

In the garden

Suggestions to reduce the risk of burns and scalds

  • Avoid getting so close to bonfires or barbecues that you could fall on them during a seizure
  • If you sometimes wander during a seizure, ask someone to stay with you when you are near a bonfire or barbecue

Suggestions to reduce the risk of drowning

  • Don’t have ponds or pools
  • If you do have ponds or pools, make sure they are securely fenced off when you are alone in the garden

Lifts

If you have mobility difficulties, you may need to use a stair lift or vertical lift. Neither of these options is risk-free if you have seizures, and there is no perfect solution. To a certain extent, it is a matter of arriving at a compromise between the safest option and what is practical.

Vertical lifts

  • Where possible, because they are likely to be small, confined spaces, these should have a padded interior to cushion the blow if you fall

Stair lifts

  • Most stair lifts have simple straps which you should use, as they are not likely to cause injury if you have a seizure
  • You may need to wear a full harness to prevent you from falling, but be aware that this could cause injury during a seizure. This may, however, be safer than falling from the stair lift

Sport and leisure

Most sport and leisure activities are possible for people with epilepsy, as long as common sense precautions are taken, where relevant. Sports on or near water, or at heights, may need extra safety measures or supervision. 

Epilepsy Action has more information about sport and leisure.

Safety equipment

Anti-suffocation pillows

Some people who have sleep seizures use anti-suffocation pillows. These may be safer than ordinary pillows, although we don’t have any research to prove this. If you are thinking about buying an anti-suffocation pillow, it is advisable to discuss this with your epilepsy nurse or epilepsy specialist.

Epilepsy Action has more information about where to buy anti-suffocation pillows.

Alarms

There are different types of alarms that can be helpful for some people with epilepsy.

These include:

  • Baby intercoms, which can pick up sound
  • Bed alarms that can sense different things when someone is asleep, such as unusual sound, movement or dribble
  • Fall alarms which can be activated when someone falls to the ground
  • Telephone alarms, which can be operated by remote control by someone who needs help

Before choosing an alarm, you need to consider whether they are necessary and whether they would be useful. For example, a fall alarm can only be useful if somebody is nearby to hear it. A baby intercom can only pick up noise, not movement.

For information and advice about alarms and where you can get them, you can contact the Disabled Living Foundation’s equipment helpline. 

Tel: 0300 999 0004  (calls charged at local rate)
Textphone: 020 7432 8009 (calls charged at standard rate)
Email: advice@dlf.org.uk

The Disabled Living Foundation's website is called Living made Easy.

Telecare alarms (alarms which are linked to a help centre)
Website: livingmadeeasy.org.uk/telecare

Bed alarms
Website: livingmadeeasy.org.uk/bedroom

Epilepsy Action has more information about daily living aids

Epilepsy identification

You may choose to carry or wear some form of identification, especially if you are out on your own. This can include an ID card or medical identity jewellery. Please contact Epilepsy Action for more information.

‘In Case of Emergency’ scheme (ICE)

This is a scheme that helps medical staff to quickly find out who they can contact in an emergency. This could be helpful for you if you have a seizure and are not able to communicate clearly.

On your mobile phone contact list, enter the word ICE in front of the name of the person you would like to be contacted. ICE stands for In Case of Emergency.

Not everyone will know about this scheme, so it isn’t something to rely on. 

Parents with epilepsy caring for young children

If you are a parent with epilepsy you will be concerned about your children’s safety if you have a seizure. Besides following general safety measures for all parents of young children, there are other things you can do to reduce the risk of injury and accidents. These include, for example, fitting a safety brake to the pram, and special ways of feeding, bathing and looking after your baby or young child.

Epilepsy Action has more information about looking after babies and young children when you have epilepsy.

Further information

Dan’s fund for burns
Provides help for people affected by burn injuries.
Tel: 020 7262 4039
Website: dansfundforburns.org

ROSPA (Royal Society for the prevention of accidents)
Promotes safety and the prevention of accidents at work, at leisure, on the road, in the home and through safety education.
Tel: 0121 248 2000
Website: rospa.com

Code: 
B015.03

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Pam Mantri,Independent Practitioner, and Joy Huston, Dan's Fund for Burns, for their contribution to this information.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated April 2014
    To be reviewed April 2017

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