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Home Safety Considerations for People With Epilepsy

Uncontrolled and unexpected seizures due to epilepsy can be dangerous, but with proper management and attention to one’s environment, risk of excessive injuries at home can be reduced. During a seizure, many people may fall on the floor, drop what they’re holding, hit their head and even break objects around them. While there’s no simple solution for avoiding all epilepsy-related injuries, many accidents in the home can be minimized or prevented. People managing this condition for the first time may feel overwhelmed by the changes they may need to make to ensure they or a member of their family can be safe at home. Taking a hard look at your living spaces and making thoughtful changes to your lifestyle can help to provide a safe environment during a seizure.

If you’re moving to a new home or remodeling the one you’re in, it can be daunting to make choices like carpet vs. hardwood, stairs or no stairs, and know you’re covering all your bases. Often, changes must be made to rooms throughout a home to optimize its safety. There’s no one way to accomplish this, and households will need to find what works for their specific situation. This guide can aid in your research and help you to look at your space in a different way.

Talking to your doctor, researching your specific situation, and joining forums/meetups are all great ways to help discover what you can do to make your home a safe place.

Consider a Specialized Home Safety Evaluation

Specialized home safety evaluations can help to keep people safe and independent by minimizing or preventing things that cause household accidents. During a home safety check, a professional comes out to your residence to determine possible dangers around the property. These safety checks can be invaluable because they are specific to the individual and their surroundings. Epilepsy manifests itself in variety of ways, so different people may benefit from different accommodations.

Those who are not able to get an in-home safety evaluation can still meet in-person with their doctor or nurse to discuss necessary changes that may need to be made at home to improve safety. It’s best to meet with a professional who is familiar with epilepsy and the individual’s unique condition. Every time this person moves into a new home, a new evaluation can be performed. Different homes will have different dangers or obstacles to consider. Hazards like stairs, no carpeting and water features (pool, lake, pond etc.) will all be noted and addressed. Some people experience confusion and tend to wander around after a seizure takes place, so even outdoor fixtures and surrounding areas should be considered during the evaluation. Residences near roads with heavy traffic can also represent reason for concern in these instances.

People thinking about buying or renting a property should always take any medical condition into consideration. In addition to the in-home evaluation, patients can also talk to their doctor about resources to learn more about in-home adaptive aids and safety technique programs at local colleges, for example.

General Home Safety

Some dangers can be found around the home, regardless of the room. Corners, hard flooring and stairs are all hot spots for falls, bumps and bruises. Fire hazards exist all over the home as well. These general home safety tips help keep everyone in the home safe.

Minimizing Fire Hazards

Fire hazards can be found in every home. The stove and oven, candles, radiators, electric heaters and fireplaces are all potential hazards for any household. Radiators can be a source of burns and can also ignite flammable materials nearby. Using or operating these items may come with an increased risk with for those with epilepsy, but you can take precautions to reduce this risk.

Solutions:

To protect yourself and people in your home, smoke alarms should be on every level of your home. Smoke detectors should be found in bedrooms, hallways, near the kitchen, in the garage, in the basement and attic. There are alarm systems that will send a notice to your phone when they are triggered that may be helpful for those with epilepsy. If a person is incapacitated and unable to reach their phone, the alarm company will call emergency services on their behalf.

  • Test your smoke alarms at least once every three months.
  • Replace the batteries annually; it helps to pick a day of the year that’s easy to remember.

Establish household fire safety rules. Not smoking indoors is critical and it may be best to avoid lighting real candles indoors. However, if you like the look and feel of having candles inside, consider electric flameless candles. They’re relatively cheap, last longer than real candles and include features such as flickering, multiple color settings and automatic shut-off.

To be completely safe, avoid using your fireplace altogether. At the very least, a person known to experience epileptic episodes should consider not using a fireplace while alone. Certain fireplace models can be set to shut off after a certain amount of time. Install a radiator cover or guard as well as a guard or gate around the fireplace.

Fire resistant materials can also help to suppress a fire in the case of an accident. It’s common for children’s pajamas and upholstery to already be made from fire resistant materials, but be sure to check the labels when there is concern. People who have epilepsy can protect themselves from potential burns by seeking out products and textiles that are specifically labeled as fire resistant.

Safe Furniture

Sharp corners are a true safety hazard for anyone with epilepsy or balance issues. These angles can cause serious injury to anyone who falls on them. Furniture made from glass, like coffee tables and display cases, can be broken if fallen in to and cause serious injury.

Easy-to-tip furniture such as tall bookcases can also present a hazard for someone who is known to experience epileptic seizures. Open drawers and cabinets can also present a danger for anyone in the midst of a fall—especially if hardware, like knobs and handles, protrude outward.

Solutions:

Fortunately, there are many safety products that soften corners and create safe conditions for people at high risk for falls. So with a combination of safety products and good personal habits, these hazards can be minimized.

  • Install corner and edge guards on all tables to reduce the worst of an impact.
  • Purchase furniture with rounded corners and edges, if possible.
  • Remove glass-topped tables and other pieces containing glass.
  • Install earthquake or child-safety straps on shelves and bulky furniture, to prevent them from falling or being knocked over.
  • Keep drawers and cabinets closed or consider installing self-closing hinges.
  • Install hardware that lays flush with your drawers and cabinets.

Typically, glass tables are made from tempered glass, an extra durable material that is four times stronger than standard glass. Tempered glass breaks into small, harmless pieces when it shatters. Even so, tempered glass can still break and anyone having a seizure can shatter their glass furniture inadvertently. To be safe, people with epilepsy may consider not purchasing any furniture that features glass aspects. Large china hutches and decorative display cases may be avoided altogether.

Also, households thinking about upgrading their windows should look into shatterproof panes of glass, as windows can be just as hazardous as pieces of glass furniture.

Household Objects

Large electronics, pieces of art and large decor are all at risk of causing injury when a person is having a seizure. Large pieces can topple from display and cords can present a tripping hazard.

Solutions:

  • Set electronics back away from shelf edges.
  • Keep knick-knacks and clutter to a minimum.
  • Bundle cords together, organizing them under or behind furniture.
  • Use as few cords as possible, or keep cords neatly stored in one location.

Appropriate Flooring

Ceramic tile and stone flooring can do a lot of damage to a body in the event of a fall. This is commonly found in kitchens and bathrooms because of its water and stain resistance. Additional tripping hazards on the floor (small accent rugs, runners, toys, clutter and other mess) are all a liability during a seizure.

Solutions:

Carpeting can be used in the kitchen if it is regularly cleaned — although it still may need to be replaced relatively often. Carpeting can become moldy, but it can be purchased in tiles and replaced in sections as needed. As odd as it may sound, this can be a small price to pay for safety and independence. Cork is an excellent alternative to ceramic and stone tiles, because it is water and stain resistant, but somewhat squishy in texture.

  • Avoid rugs, or if rugs must be used, secure them in place to prevent accidents.
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting with thick padding helps cushion in the event of a fall.
  • High wool content over synthetic carpeting helps to prevents friction burns to the skin.

A mindful eye will help ensure walkways and common areas of the house are clear in the event of a fall. People who live with epilepsy can protect themselves by going through their items regularly to declutter. Using modular furniture for storing clutter can also help, but keep in mind the more organizational systems in place, the more hazards there will be to cover with guards or padding.

Stairs

Stairs can be hard to completely avoid. Many houses and apartments have a step or two somewhere, although the latter will often have ramps to accommodate for wheelchair users. When searching for places to live, opting for a one-story house or an apartment on the first floor can eliminate this concern. However, this may not always be an option. Those with stairs in their home can still make certain improvements to increase their safety.

Solutions:

The best solution for someone with epilepsy is to live on the first floor, or in a home with very few to no stairs. However, there are stair safety suggestions offered by the Epilepsy Society.

  • Install waist-high gates around stairs to prevent falling over the top.
  • Padded hand rails reduce injury if fallen into.
  • Renovate the home so all living can be done on one floor.
  • Place a cushioned mat or wall covering at the bottom of the stairs to pad a potential bad fall.

Kitchen

The kitchen contains a number of risks for anyone with epilepsy. Heat, sharp objects, fire, hard surfaces and other features make the kitchen a place where injuries can easily occur to just about anyone. But people at higher risk of injury in the kitchen may need to make some modifications to help prevent accidents.

Cooking

Cooking involves a variety of hazards including hard surfaces, heat, fire and sharp objects. A person who has a seizure while cooking can start a fire, seriously cut themselves or suffer a nasty burn. A person falling to the ground may knock pans off the stove, making a large mess of potentially scalding hot food and subject themselves to serious injury. Depending on how much cooking is done and the individual’s unique condition, there are many things a person can do to avoid injuries.

Solutions:

There are special motion sensor and timed devices that can shut off a stove when motion around the area has stopped or a certain amount of time has elapsed. For this reason, microwave ovens or slow cookers may be preferable over using the oven or stovetop. In addition, these several small habits can help prevent serious problems while cooking.

  • Turn pot and pan handles inward or toward the back of the stove to prevent them from being knocked off if hit.
  • Use burners at the back of the stove to reduce chance of injury in the event a person falls forward onto the stove.
  • Replace dinnerware with non-breakable products to prevent injuries and expensive accidents.
  • Use the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand.

Some may avoid cooking by themselves or when alone in the house, if it can be helped.

Dining

A person who is known to experience epileptic seizures can easily choke if they’re eating when a seizure begins. Even if they’re sitting down, that person can suffer additional injuries such as falling off the chair or spilling hot food or liquid onto themselves.

Solutions:

  • Eat while sitting upright in a chair with armrests, to reduce the chance of falling.
  • Use cups with lids to drink hot liquids.
  • Use plastic cups instead of glass.
  • Avoid serving food at the table until it has cooled somewhat.

Ideally, everyone in the household should know the Heimlich maneuver. Taking CPR classes once per year can help ensure everyone will know what to do in the event someone begins to choke.

Bathrooms

Bathrooms are dangerous for many of the same reasons the kitchen can be dangerous. Hard surfaces, water and heat all can lead to possible burns and bruises. People who experience a seizure at the wrong time or left unassisted afterward run a high risk of drowning. Using electric beauty tools like a curling iron, hair straightener or plug-in razor could lead to electrocution if dropped into water. A broken mirror in the bathroom could lead to a serious additional injuries outside of normal seizure recovery.

Solutions:

There are some safety measures to consider when using the bathroom. Furthermore, some improvements can be made to reduce various risks.

  • Take showers over baths.
  • Install a shatterproof shower door.
  • Install shatterproof mirrors.
  • Pad the faucets and fixtures to protect in the event of a fall.
  • Install recessed soap dishes instead of shower caddies for soaps and shampoos.
  • Ensure drains function properly so standing water doesn’t accumulate in the bottom of the shower.
  • Set water heater less than 120 degrees to prevent scalding.
  • Install non-slip padded mats in the bathtub.

If a person with epilepsy must take a bath, it’s ideal do so in shallow water with someone in the home to check in periodically. It’s also best practice for a person with epilepsy to avoid using electric appliances, such as a curling iron, around water that may be in the sink or tub. Replacing all bathroom outlets with GFCI outlets (if they are not already present) can help reduce this risk.

The door to the bathroom should be installed to open outward. This way, if someone in the bathroom or shower has a seizure and falls against the door, a person will still be able to get to them in a timely manner without causing further injury.

Bedrooms

Though the bedroom is typically a relatively safe room compared to other rooms of the house, some situations could present a real hazard for someone who experiences a seizure unprepared and alone. The main concerns here might be falls from the bed and furniture such as night stands and lamps.

Solutions:

  • Position the bed away from walls so the person having a seizure in bed will not hit their head.
  • Position the bed away from objects that stick out from the wall like radiators, heaters and window sills.
  • Keep furniture far enough away from the bed.
  • Install cushioned bed rails.
  • Keep glasses and breakable things off of the nightstand.
  • Avoid placing heavy lamps on the nightstand.
  • Limit the number of pillows on the bed at any given time.

Clutter can easily accumulate in bedrooms. People who have recurrent seizures should do regular checks of their bedroom, always assessing their environment and removing clutter before it becomes a problem. If the room is dark without a lamp on the nightstand, consider installing recessed lighting over and under the bed.

It can be a good idea to place extra padding on the floor around the bed to ensure that if a fall does occur, the falling person will do as little damage to themselves as possible. Some may consider a low bed or mattress placed on the floor to accomplish this as well.

Avoid bunk beds for children. If a child with epilepsy must sleep on a bunk bed, sleeping on the bottom bunk will be preferable to the top. And if a cup must be placed on the nightstand, consider a covered travel mug that will not break.

Parents should try to keep hard pieces of furniture, like a hard toy box or wooden rocking chair, out of the room. If a toy box is needed, one made out of canvas is ideal. This can help to make the child feel more independent by having a safe space all their own.

Home Exterior

The home’s exterior may contain a number of hazards. Yard and gardening tools, exterior water features and other common features in yards can lead to cuts, burns, drowning and other serious problems.

Gardening and Lawn Care

Hard surfaces like concrete can cause head injuries and scrapes in the event that someone falls. Sharp tools can cause cuts or seriously punctures. Lawn mowers can cause grave injuries and gravel can cause painful abrasions when fallen on. Decorative yet prickly shrubs like cacti and shrubs with thorns can cause scratches and painful gashes.

Solutions:

  • Use a gas mower with handle release.
  • Use a lawn mower with a safety guard over the blades.
  • Do not use riding lawn mowers.
  • Find gardening and lawn tools that will shut off when they’re set down.
  • Install rubber mats or plant lush shrubbery to help cover hard surfaces.
  • Use mulch on pathways instead of pea gravel.

As with other things, it’s important for a person with frequent or unpredictable seizures to weigh the risks of working alone or performing DIY projects without help. Using power tools can be extremely dangerous for anyone. If tools must be used, non-power tools are best.

Outdoor Water Safety

A person can drown in just a few inches of water. Outdoor water features can be a major hazard for people performing yard work, DIY projects or even just spending time outside recreationally.

Solutions:

  • Install fencing and gates around pools or ponds.
  • Stay many feet away from water features when working outside.
  • Consult with your physician to find out which activities are safe and which activities are risky for your personal situation.

For many people with epilepsy, swimming is best done with someone who knows the person’s condition, how to identify a seizure and also how to respond in the event a seizure takes place.

Spaces for Relaxation and Meditation

For some people, meditation can reduce stress and improve quality of life. Others have reported that meditation has actually triggered epileptic episodes. Be sure to check with your doctor if you’re planning to start meditating or practicing a new physical activity like yoga. Your doctor can give you advice and help you engage in safe and beneficial activities.

It helps to have a quiet safe space for relaxation and meditation. Going into a special room or designated space in your house can make meditation easier. If you are planning to create a meditation space in your home, these tips can help:

  • Pick a room that is separate from the common areas of your house.
  • Paint the room in relaxing colors like sage green, gray, gray blue or shades of brown.
  • Keep the area uncluttered with minimal furniture.
  • Install thick carpeting with extra padding.

The best rooms in the house for meditation are usually guest bedrooms or another room that is positioned away from the street and doesn’t share a wall with a busy room in the house. Rooms with a northern facing window have gentler ambient light and are easier to keep comfortable in the heat of the day.

Make sure other people in the household know the importance of this practice and avoid interrupting when the meditation room is in use. Don’t lock the door and consider a baby monitor or camera in the room to help alert others if there’s a problem. To ensure this space and activity is safe for a certain person’s situation, consult with a physician.

Home Improvement Project Safety

When it comes to their home, some people just like to get things done themselves. Independence is important, and most homeowners want to take care of their investment just like everyone else. For someone with epilepsy, this independence is possible with some added considerations for safety. Here are a few tips for staying safe during DIY home improvement projects.

Solutions:

  • Use cordless power tools and tools that shut off when they’re set down.
  • Avoid using ladders alone, even if using the first few steps.
  • Avoid working around water features and other places that can be fallen into.

If a ladder must be used, have a buddy nearby. Know the project that’s being tackled. If you’re not sure how to get it done, it’s safer to ask a professional for help. When faced with a home improvement project like roof work, fixing the chimney or tree trimming, hiring a contractor to help is often best.

Wear protective gear when working with tools, and when possible, use tools that are not electric. Manually powered drills, for example, can work just as well as electric drills for certain tasks. When in doubt, consult with a physician; they will know which activities are safest and which activities are not recommended.

Other Safety Tips

There are many things you can do to stay safe at home while living with epilepsy. Both personal habits and home improvements can help improve independence. Knowing where potential dangers are can help in avoiding medical emergencies.

Create an emergency contact list and give this information to coworkers and friends. Also, input “ICE” (“In Case of Emergency”) into the contact information in your phone, then follow the word ICE with the name of your emergency contact. Trained personnel such as paramedics, firefighters and police officers look for this in case someone needs to be contacted on your behalf. Combine this with a medical ID bracelet or other documentation carried on your person with pertinent information about your condition.

If you live alone, it may be good to give some trusted friends and family a key to your home, so they can quickly and safely enter in the event of an emergency.

Many medical professionals recommend keeping a seizure diary. This is a record of seizures you’ve had, their duration, the effect medicine had on them and possible triggers. This record will help you talk to physicians, and can be shared with your care team. If you have a smartphone, there are now seizure diary apps to help with this. Doing this will also help you to better identify trends or when something seems out of the ordinary.

Some people with epilepsy use personal alarms to alert family members when they’re having a seizure. These devices are especially popular with parents of children who experience seizures.

Perform seizure drills on a regular basis. Seizure drills are trial runs when you and members of your family practice their roles during a seizure. Even very young children can be taught what to do in an emergency, and how to dial 911 if need be.

And lastly, consider getting a service dog. You may even benefit from a service dog if you don’t live alone, so talk to your care team for resources and find out if a service animal would be right for you.

There are many things you can do to make living with epilepsy more manageable. By making changes to your living environment and changes to your everyday behaviors, you can stay safe. With proper attention, care, risk prevention and awareness, a person with epilepsy can move more towards normalcy and independence in their own home.

Getty Images photo via Chinnapong