Everyone faces potential hazards in their home. Unguarded fires, badly fused plugs, carelessness with chip pans etc, can cause accidents. Safety is important for everyone. For the person with epilepsy there can be additional risks. Those whose seizures are well controlled may need to take a few extra precautions whereas people with frequent seizures will need to take particular care especially if there is likely to be a sudden loss of consciousness without warning.
Open fires are a hazard if a person might fall and lose consciousness. Sturdy fireguards like those used for young children are essential. These should be securely fixed to a wall or floorboards so that they cannot be knocked over during a seizure. Stoves can become very hot and need to be guarded in the same way as open fires.
Lightweight, freestanding heaters are easily knocked over. Open element electric heaters and gas heaters are dangerous to someone who might fall across them. Radiator guards may help protect from heat injuries but edges and corners shouldn’t be too sharp. Radiators which are too close to the floor may cause a person to become wedged in a seizure and it’s best if these are mounted higher up to prevent this. Hot pipes can be covered to reduce risk of burns also.
Trailing electric flexes are potentially dangerous, as they can result in an appliance being pulled over during a seizure, which could cause a fire or entanglement in the flex.
Glass and Mirrors
Safety glass can be used for glass doors and windows so it doesn’t shatter on impact. Alternatively, rolls of safety film can be applied to glass surfaces to prevent dangerous splintering. Avoid using glass tables and freestanding glass or mirrored items where possible. Mirrors can be mounted securely on walls.
Pot handles should always be turned away so that pots are less likely to be accidentally knocked over during seizures. A cooker guard or rail is recommended. Avoid carrying dishes of hot food or liquid. Using a food trolley is helpful to move hot dishes. If cooking for a number of people use several small dishes instead of one large one to reduce the risk from lifting a large dish of hot food from the oven. Using a microwave cooker reduces the risk of burns from direct heat sources.
Built in presses and secured appliances are less likely to become loose during seizures. Cordless appliances with automatic cut-off switches are preferable. Try to secure appliances to walls or counters where possible. Keeping water levels lower in kettles reduces the risk of scald injuries in seizures. Depending on the frequency and nature of seizures consider avoiding or reducing the use of sharp kitchen tools.
Hard tiled surfaces can lead to impact injuries during falls. Coarse carpets can lead to friction burns. Safety matting helps reduce risks.
Water, even at very low levels, is a hazard and taking baths isn’t recommended, especially for someone on their own with uncontrolled seizures. Drowning in the bath is the most common accidental death among people with epilepsy. For someone with uncontrolled seizures bathing is a greater risk. However, if there is only a bath available it’s safest to attach a shower hose for washing and keep the plug out to allow drainage. Sitting in the bath and using the shower hose reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of falling and sinking in water. Avoid using very hot water to reduce the risk of scalding. Any risk of water inhalation in a seizure needs urgent medical attention. Let someone in the home know if you are using the bathroom.
Showers are safer than baths and while they are not risk free they are easier to adapt. Avoid shower bases with high sides where water could be trapped if a fall occurred. If the seizures are frequent and unpredictable always let someone know that you are taking a shower. A shower chair reduces the risk of falling from a standing position. Shower curtains can be an entanglement risk so shatterproof safety glass or perspex may be better. Make sure that water temperature is controlled. A water timer can ensure water is cut off at a pre-set time.
If possible, it is best to hang the door so that it opens outwards then the door would not be blocked if a person fell against it. Locks are best avoided so that help can be quickly at hand if needed. Some people use special safety locks that can be operated from outside in an emergency. Others find that an “engaged” notice hung over the outside door handle is all that is needed. Tight spaces between sinks and toilets can be a risk if the person becomes wedged. Place some safe items in these spaces which will not pose a risk. Remove glass shelving and attach mirrors to walls.
Seizures during sleep are not so different from waking seizures except for where they happen so it is helpful to consider bedroom safety. Use low good sized beds with padded headboards. Many people prefer to avoid soft pillows, use a ventilated pillow or no pillow at all. Smoking in bed is very unsafe for a person with epilepsy. Keep heavy furniture and lockers away from bedside to prevent injury during a fall. Built in furniture is preferable to freestanding which could be knocked over in some kinds of seizures. Consider using a safety mat on the floor if the person tends to fall out of bed during seizures. This will prevent carpet burn from coarse carpets. Such mats are similar to those used in gyms or to foam mats. Top bunks aren’t safe for people with active seizures. Wall mounted lamps pose less risks than bedside lamps which are easily knocked over. Hanging the door to be opened from outside will allow access to someone in a seizure.
If a parent has epilepsy and there are young children in the family it is important to make sure that the children cannot wander off unsupervised. Garden gates need good locks. Hard landscaping and ornamental features can be a risk in falls. Remove those that can be taken away. Ponds and open water are best covered with mesh. Grass and decking are safer than hard surfaces if falls are frequent. Coarse gravel may cause skin injuries in falls. Wooden fencing may be safer than metal railings.
Remember that medication is dangerous for small children. Pills and tablets are easily mistaken for sweets and the child who has watched a parent take medication may try to copy them. Anti-epileptic drugs and other medications should be securely locked away and you need to be safety conscious about pills carried around in pockets and bags if there is a child about