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What to Do If Someone Elderly Has an Epileptic Seizure

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

The ideal for older people with epilepsy is to prevent seizures from happening altogether. Medication, lifestyle changes and avoiding seizure triggers can all help toward this goal.

However, it’s not always possible for those with epilepsy, including elderly people, to completely eliminate seizures.

For these people, it’s essential to prepare for and anticipate seizures before they happen. For example, the friends and family of an older person with epilepsy should inform themselves about what to do for someone having seizure symptoms. In this article, we’ll break down the steps to take if someone has a seizure, and explain why different types of seizures may require a slightly different response.

What you shouldn’t do

First, let’s start by listing a few things not to when someone is having a seizure.

Don’t panic

To help someone having a seizure, the most important thing to do is to stay calm so that you can take other helpful steps as needed. You may need to dial 999, but not every seizure requires a 999 call or even a visit to the hospital. According to the NHS, you should call 999 about a seizure if:

  • The person has not had a seizure before
  • The seizure lasts longer than their usual seizures, or, if you don’t know how long is usual for them, more than five minutes
  • The person has more than one seizure directly after another without regaining consciousness
  • The person doesn’t return to full consciousness after the seizure
  • During the seizure, the person was injured badly, such as by striking their head as they fell.

You will need to stay calm so that you can observe and watch out for these signs, as well as taking the helpful steps we’ll list later on.

Don’t move them unless it’s to keep them away from something dangerous

When someone is having a seizure close to something that could hurt them, such as a hot radiator, then you should gently try to move them. But if they’re in a safe location – for example, away from hot things, sharp things or water – then you don’t need to move them to a different location. You can also move sharp or dangerous things away from them.

Don’t put anything in their mouth

In movies or TV, you may have seen people putting things like cloth in the mouth of a person having a seizure. This actually is not correct at all! Don’t put anything in the mouth of an older person having a seizure. This would only make the seizure more dangerous for them.

Don’t hold them down

Likewise, you should not try to hold down an older person who is having a seizure. If their body is jerking or shaking, there is no need to hold them down to prevent this – it will not work and will potentially hurt them.

What you should do

Now that you know what not to do for someone having seizures, let’s talk about what you should do.

Since the duration of a seizure determines whether you need to call 999 or not, you should try to time the seizure and be ready to take make the call if needed. Remember that a seizure lasting more than five minutes is an emergency.

You should also stay with your elderly loved one throughout the length of the seizure and afterward. You can’t stop the seizure from happening, so your focus is to keep them safe from injury while it happens.

Lastly, after the seizure you should provide comfort and reassurance, as well as help with tidying up or cleaning anything that’s needed.

Further steps you might need to take will depend on what kind of seizure the elderly person is experiencing. You should familiarise yourself with the type or types of seizure your older loved one usually experiences, so you can watch to see whether it is out of the norm for them. You’ll also need to know what type of seizure you’re seeing so that you can respond in the most helpful way.

Different types of seizure that need different responses

The most well-known type of seizure is the tonic-clonic seizure, in which a person with epilepsy goes stiff, falls to the floor unconscious and then experiences jerking movements. Other somewhat similar types of seizure include clonic seizures, which involve only the shaking and jerking movements of a tonic-clonic seizure, and tonic seizures, which involve only the aspect where their body becomes stiff. An atonic seizure is sort of the opposite of a tonic seizure – all the muscles relax, which also causes a person to fall.

On the other hand, there are several types of seizures with symptoms that are less dramatic to see. These seizures may not be clearly recognisable as seizures to onlookers who aren’t familiar with epilepsy. They can sometimes even be mistaken for dementia in the elderly.

For example, a complex partial seizure does involve the person losing awareness, but doesn’t make their body stiff, too relaxed, or jerking and shaking. Instead, in a complex partial seizure the person with epilepsy may perform unaware, automatic movements such as lip smacking, fumbling with their clothes or even wandering. Similarly, an absence seizure often simply involves losing awareness and staring absently for fifteen seconds or less.

Neither of these types of seizures directly causes a fall, but they can still be dangerous if they occur at the wrong time, such as when an older person is in the middle of doing something else.

What to do for someone having seizure-related body stiffness, jerking and a fall to the ground, such as in a tonic-clonic seizure

If someone has a seizure that causes them to fall to the ground, it’s crucial for you to try to protect their head and prevent them from hitting it on anything. You can then put something soft under their head while they’re on the ground and loosen their clothing at the neck if it’s tight.

Once the seizure is over, you can move their body into the recovery position. This is a sideways facing position that help ensure an unconscious person can breathe well.

What to do if someone has a seizure that doesn’t cause a fall

A complex partial seizure is the most common type of seizure in the elderly, so it’s worth knowing what to do after this type of seizure or similar ones like absence seizures.

The key with these types of seizures is to gently keep the person safe. Otherwise, just allow the seizure to pass. So, if a person is having a complex partial seizure and performing unaware, automatic movements, this isn’t a problem as long as they’re not touching anything that could injure them or wandering somewhere dangerous.

You shouldn’t try to hold them back from performing these movements as long as there’s no risk of harm. Likewise, if an older person is staring blankly – which can be how complex partial seizures look in the elderly – then just keep an eye on them to ensure they’re safe and be ready to provide reassurance after the seizure.

Rescue medicine

Some people with epilepsy are prescribed rescue medicines by their doctor. These medicines can be taken during a seizure if there’s a risk of the seizure lasting more than five minutes and turning into a dangerous condition called status epilepticus.

If you have an elderly loved one with epilepsy, you should ask them ahead of time if there’s anything specific you should do during a seizure and whether they have rescue medications. Don’t do anything related to medications during a seizure unless the older person’s doctor has specifically instructed it.

How devices can help during and after a seizure

As you know, the most common type of seizure for an older person is a complex partial seizure. Yet, although this type of seizure doesn’t automatically involve falling, falls are still a risk.

Why? Firstly, because older people may experience confusion for long periods of time after a seizure. It is easy for older people who are already unsteady on their feet to fall if they are confused and not thinking clearly, especially if there are obstacles like rugs or pets underfoot.

Secondly, older people may experience side effects like drowsiness and dizziness from epilepsy drugs, and these symptoms can also cause trips and falls. This means that an older person with epilepsy may more be vulnerable to a fall all the time, not just after a seizure.

On top of that, automatic movements and wandering during a complex partial seizure can lead to trips and falls because the older person is not aware of what they’re doing.

An alarm with automatic fall detection can provide great peace of mind for older people who fear falling for all of these epilepsy-related reasons. Similarly, mobile alarms with GPS tracking can be reassuring for older people with epilepsy because they ensure that an older person who likes to be active and independent can still call for help if a seizure occurs outside of the home. These devices call for help with a single touch, and you can choose a device that calls family and friends or that calls our 24/7 response centre.

Older people who have just experienced a seizure – of any sort – may want or need to call for help for a variety of reasons. If lack of awareness during a seizure has caused a spill or a mess, the older person may want or need to call for help. An elderly person who lives alone might also find they have been injured during a seizure and need help. And, of course, seizures can be frightening, so it’s easy to see why an older person might want to speak to a loved one after a seizure for reassurance.

A quick response if someone has a seizure

It’s only natural that you want to help someone having a seizure. While the guidance above can help when you’re with them, a personal alarm with fall detection is a great way to keep them safe when you’re not there.

If you’d like to hear more from our SureSafe experts about how a personal alarm can help seniors with epilepsy, you can always call us on 0800 112 3201, try our live chat, or ask us to call you back.

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