12-3-2009 | International expert calls for broadcast guidelines to protect people with photosensitive epilepsy

New broadcast guidelines are needed to protect Irish people with photosensitive epilepsy, according to one of the world's foremost experts in photosensitivity, Prof. Graham Harding.

Prof. Harding, who has headed the Clinical Neurophysiology Unit at Aston University, Birmingham called for the new guidelines in his keynote address at Brainwave's Robert Bentley Todd Memorial lecture which took place today.

Prof Harding explained that in the UK, Guidelines on Flashing Images and Regular Patterns in Television have existed since 1993 and guidelines also exist in other countries. However, no such guidelines exist in Ireland.

Prof Harding has an illustrious career in which photosensitivity has always been his special interest. He has carried out the largest study of a photosensitive population in the world. He also developed the Harding FPA Flash and Pattern Analyser to analyse broadcast material for harmful images and has contributed to the development of broadcast guidelines on flashing images and regular patterns in the UK.

There are 37,000-40,000 people with epilepsy in Ireland, making it the most common serious neurological condition and a source of major long-term disability. Photosensitivity is sensitivity to flickering or intermittent light stimulation and visual patterns. It affects approximately one in 4,000 people, or about 3-5% of all people with epilepsy. The onset of photosensitive epilepsy in an individual occurs typically around the time of puberty and three quarters of patients remain photosensitive for life.

"The most common trigger for photosensitive epilepsy in Europe is the domestic television set. There have been a number of instances internationally where broadcast material has triggered seizures in susceptible individuals, most famously in Japan in 1997 where when an episode of the Pokemon cartoon triggered 560 seizures as a result of four seconds of alternating saturated red and blue light. Following this, broadcast guidelines were introduced in Japan to reduce the incidence of photosensitive seizures", said Prof. Harding.

Guidelines have been very effective internationally in reducing the problem for individuals who may be photosensitive. Epilepsy organisations in the UK have noted a marked decrease in the number of problems reported since the incorporation of the latest guidelines, while studies in Japan have shown a significant reduction in referrals for photosensitive epilepsy.