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Caring For Someone with Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes a variety of symptoms that involve brain activity. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, there are 3.4 million people with active epilepsy in the United States, and 150,000 people are diagnosed each year. The condition can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, and 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lives. While epilepsy impacts thousands of people, it is still very possible for these individuals to live happy, safe and fulfilling lives with the right care and support.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy affects the central nervous system, and it can cause symptoms like seizures, periods of abnormal behavior, or loss of awareness. There are a variety of symptoms associated with epilepsy, and both medication and surgery can be successful at treating the disease. Children who are diagnosed with epilepsy can outgrow the condition while others continue to live with the disease for the duration of their lives. People with epilepsy often suffer from seizures. Symptoms of seizures include:

  • Moments of confusion
  • Stiff muscles
  • Uncontrolled jerking and moving of arms and legs
  • Lost consciousness
  • Staring blankly
  • Psychological symptoms (fear, anxiety, etc)

What are the Risk Factors of Epilepsy?

Some factors may increase a person’s likelihood of developing epilepsy, but anyone can be diagnosed with this disease.

Family History

If someone in your family has epilepsy, you are more likely to develop a seizure disorder.


Epilepsy is often diagnosed in children and older adults, although onset can occur at any age.

Stroke or Other Vascular Disease

These conditions can cause brain damage that can lead to the development of epilepsy. Alcohol and tobacco use can contribute to the likelihood of this disorder developing. Maintaining a healthy and active diet and lifestyle is recommended.

Head Injuries

Some people who suffer from a head injury also develop epilepsy.

Seizures During Childhood

Sometimes children develop high fevers that cause seizures. Most often, they do not go on to develop epilepsy, but it can increase the likelihood that they will develop it at some time in their lives.

Brain Infections

Meningitis, or other infections, can cause inflammation in your brain or spinal cord. When this happens, it can increase the likelihood for epilepsy to develop as well.


If a person has dementia, they are more likely to develop epilepsy.

What are the Types of Epilepsy?

A person who suffers from epilepsy typically also suffers from seizures, since they frequently have abnormal brain activity. Seizures can be categorized into three types, depending on where the abnormal brain activity begins.

Focal Onset Seizures

A focal seizure occurs when abnormal brain activity occurs in just one area of a person’s brain. When this happens, an individual can suffer from two different types of focal seizures.

Focal Onset Aware:

During this type of focal seizure, a person can experience emotional changes, or their senses may be altered. Additionally, one body part may experience uncontrolled jerking or tingling, and they may experience dizziness or bright flashes of light.

Focal Onset Impaired Awareness:

This type of focal seizure occurs when a person has a change or loss of awareness or consciousness. When this happens, the individual may enter a dream-like state and will often stare off into space. During the seizure, the individual won’t be able to respond to outside stimuli and they may make repetitive motions like walking in circles, swallowing repeatedly or rubbing their hands together.

Generalized Seizures

A generalized seizure occurs when both sides of the brain are affected. When this happens, a person can experience several different types of seizures. Some of the most commonly known generalized seizures include:

Tonic-Clonic Seizure:

Previously referred to as a “grand mal” seizure, this is the type of seizure that most people picture. A person experiencing a tonic-clonic seizure will experience muscle stiffness, lost consciousness, jerking of the legs and arms and may lose control of their bladder and bowels.

Absence Seizure:

Previously called a “petit mal” seizure, this type of seizure only lasts a few seconds. A person will experience a brief lapse in awareness that can look like they’re daydreaming, and they’re more commonly experienced by children.

Atonic Seizure:

People who experience an atonic seizure will suddenly lose muscle tension, becoming completely limp. If standing, the person will fall to the ground, and they are at risk of being injured. Atonic seizures typically last around 15 seconds.

Unknown Onset Seizures

This type of seizure occurs when the beginning of a seizure isn’t known, or if nobody is around to witness the seizure when it happens. Once the individual is examined and more testing is done, a doctor may be able to determine whether the person suffered a focal or generalized seizure.

What are Other Health Conditions Associated with Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can lead to other health conditions that can negatively affect a person’s life. Additionally, a seizure can occur during a dangerous activity that can cause serious injury. Here are a few examples.


If someone has a seizure while they are standing, they are at risk of falling and suffering injuries like broken bones or head injuries.

Car Accidents

If a person with epilepsy has a seizure while driving, they are at great risk of injuring themselves or other people. Because of this, many states have strict license requirements for people with epilepsy.


According to the Mayo Clinic, a person with has epilepsy is 13 to 19 times more likely to drown while swimming or bathing than an individual without. This is due to the risk of having a seizure while submerged in water.

Complications During Pregnancy

Many women with epilepsy can enjoy healthy pregnancies that result in healthy babies. Unfortunately, during pregnancy, seizures can put a woman and her unborn baby at risk, and some medications can cause birth defects. If your loved one with epilepsy is pregnant or is thinking about becoming pregnant, her doctor can advise the best treatment plan.

Psychological Problems

Many people with epilepsy suffer from mental health problems like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. These issues can be exacerbated by the side effects of medication as well as the lifestyle adjustments needed to live with this disease.

How Can a Family Caregiver Assist Someone with Epilepsy?

If you’re taking care of someone with epilepsy, it’s important to take care of yourself as well. Make sure you’re feeding your body whole foods and that you’re maintaining an active lifestyle. Caring for your own body will make caring for your loved one much easier.

To effectively care for someone with epilepsy, it’s important to inform yourself about the disease. Learn about seizure first aid, so you’re ready to help when it’s time, and help your loved one to stay on top of their medications and trips to the doctor. Keep an eye on any patterns your loved one may display directly before seizures so you can best be prepared when they exhibit those signs in the future.

PASCO Doctor

Family Caregiver Program

Caring for someone with epilepsy can be time-consuming, and it’s important to avoid burnout. Barry Rosenburg founded PASCO’s Family Caregiver Program in 2001 to help caregivers like you. Our organization works to reimburse people for the time they spend taking care of loved ones with lifelong diseases like epilepsy.

If you’d like to learn more about caring for someone with epilepsy, or if you’d like to learn more about our program, contact us today.

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