Epilepsy Information

Interacting with Epilepsy Sufferers

Interacting with people who have epilepsy is a topic that deserves special attention, because people are often concerned about what way(s) epilepsy makes a person different and how one should deal with the differences. The first thing a person who knows someone with epilepsy should do is find out more information about epilepsy through informational sources such as books (like this one) or reputable sources on the Internet. Oftentimes, the biggest issue related to interacting with a person with epilepsy is not really knowing what having epilepsy means. Once you are up to date about the basics of epilepsy, you will know that there really are not many differences between a person with epilepsy and a person without. Certainly, there aren't many differences between a person with epilepsy and another chronic general medical condition, like diabetes or asthma. Therefore, if you are a friend or family member, you should interact with them similarly to how you would with other friends and family members. If you are close enough to the person to worry about how you should interact with them, after you learn more about epilepsy in general, you should find out about the ways in which epilepsy affects them. Ask them questions like:

• Do you have frequent seizures, or do the seizures occur more infrequently?
• Are you allowed to drive?
• Can you work?
• What side effects do the medications you take cause you?
• How often do you need to take their medications?
• What are your seizures like?
• What can I do for you?

You’ll find that asking them appropriate and caring questions not only gives you answers you need to better understand the situation, but makes them feel as if they are understood and cared for.

There are a couple of precautions to take when interacting with a person with epilepsy to be aware of.
1. Know what to do if they have a seizure. Asking them about their seizures with the questions listed above will give you an idea of how often their seizures occur and what they present like. You can also discuss with them what you are supposed to do if they have a seizure while they are with you, as calling 911 is often not necessary. But, the general guidelines to know are easy to remember with the following acronym - BRAIN:
• Be calm
• Remove dangerous objects
• Always time the seizure
• If person has fallen, turn on side and put something soft under head
• Never put anything in mouth and never hold the person down

2. Be aware that they need to take their medications regularly and as prescribed, so be supportive of this and provide gentle reminders for them if you feel like they are likely to forget. Also, note that some medications have reactions with certain foods (e.g., grapefruit), other medications, birth control pills, and alcohol. Therefore, you should be aware of the list of things they need to avoid and support them in their efforts. For example, if your friend has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and you always used to go to bars and drink some beers together, be supportive that your friend will not be able to do that any longer and think of new activities you can do together that do not involve alcohol.

In general, when interacting with a person with epilepsy, treat them how you would like to be treated if the situation was reversed and you were the one with the condition. You would want your friends and family to be supportive of you, to be helpful to you when you needed their help, to allow you to be independent at other times, and for them to treat you the same as they always have. So, make sure you treat them that way as well. And if you still aren’t sure how to interact with them, talk with them about your feelings and work through it together.