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Purple Day: Audio-Visual Materials for Teaching About Epilepsy

It’s estimated that around half a million people in the UK alone suffer from some form of epilepsy – that’s around one in every hundred people! Despite this, there are still a lot of common misconceptions and stigmas surrounding the condition, which is why we’re here to debunk some common myths, including some audio-visual resources that could be helpful if you’re looking to teach your pupils more about epilepsy.

Myth #1: All seizures involve convulsions

This is an easy one to believe, as it’s very visible and it’s the one most commonly portrayed in the media. However, there are many types of seizure, and some of them are often not diagnosed straight away as they don’t involve convulsions. Here we have a short list of some of the common types:

  • Absence seizures – this type of seizure is actually very common among people with epilepsy. A person having an absence seizure may be staring into space, appearing to be ‘daydreaming’, and will be unresponsive to what’s going on around them. They only last for a very short amount of time, which is why they are less frequently picked up on.
    Take a look at Summer’s Story for more information on absence seizures.
  • Focal seizures – these are also known as partial seizures, as they effect only one part of the brain (although they can also lead to other types as seizures). People with this type of seizure can have different levels of awareness:
    • Aware focal seizures – people who have these seizures will be aware of what’s going on, but might not be able to put them into words.
    • Focal impaired awareness seizures – a person having this kind of seizure may be able to see and hear you, but not understand what you’re saying and/or respond to you. In this case, it’s also possible that they will not remember the seizure afterwards.

This broadcast here details the experiences of a teenager with focal impaired awareness seizures.

  • Tonic seizures – in this case, the person’s muscles will go stiff and they will suddenly drop to the floor (normally backwards). They will not last for long, but can be dangerous as it’s possible that they could hit their head on something.
  • Atonic seizures – these are similar to tonic seizures in that they will cause a person to fall to the floor, but in this case, they normally fall forwards, and the fall is caused by the flopping of muscles rather than the stiffening of them.
  • Clonic seizures – here, a part (on in some cases, the whole) of the person’s body will jerk in a rhythmic way.
  • Tonic clonic seizures – this is the kind of seizure that you see most often, as they involve convulsions caused by the stiffening and relaxation of the muscles. A person having this type of seizure is likely to fall backwards if standing, and can bite their tongue. Generally, people who have tonic clonic seizures do not remember having it.
  • Myoclonic seizures – these often happen soon after waking, and consist of muscle jerking. They are short but can happen in clusters, and are often linked with tonic clonic seizures.

Of course, this is just a generalised list – there are over 40 types of seizure, and a lot of people with epilepsy suffer from more than one.

Myth #2: All seizures are triggered by flashing/strobe lights

Seizures that are triggered by flashing and strobe lighting (photosensitive epilepsy) are actually very rare – around only 3% of all people with epilepsy are affected by them. Most seizures are actually more likely to be triggered by lack of sleep or stress than by flashing lights. Other possible triggers include not taking the prescribed anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) or consuming excess amounts of alcohol.

Myth #3: All people with epilepsy have a low I. Q.

This is a really harmful misconception to people with epilepsy and their loved ones. Epilepsy is a very broad condition that effects different people in different ways. There are actually very few cases of cognitive ability being affected by epilepsy itself, though seizures can occur as part of other underlying conditions that may affect mental development.

In fact, some of history’s greatest minds, such as Isaac Newton and Charles Dickens, suffered from epilepsy!

Myth #4: People with epilepsy can’t work

This is on a similar note to the intelligence myth. Some employers are very reluctant to hire someone with epilepsy, which can, of course, ruin some people’s career paths. As above, there are a few exceptions – someone having dozens of seizures per day, for example, might find it very difficult, if not impossible, to work. However, most people with epilepsy go about their day-to-day lives and have very successful careers without much of an issue.

This clip talks about people’s attitudes towards epilepsy from all over the world.

Myth #5: You should restrain someone who is having a convulsive seizure (and stick something in their mouth)

This is a really common myth that can be very dangerous for both the person having the seizure and the person trying to restrain them. What you should really do is try and catch them if they fall, make sure that their head is cushioned, and then wait until it’s all over. After that, you should put them into the recovery position. NOTE: if their seizure lasts for more than five minutes, call an ambulance.

Myths = Debunked

So here we are, just a handful of misconceptions about epilepsy and the people who suffer from it. I hope that if there is one thing that this article has brought to light, it’s that not everyone with epilepsy is the same. We all have varying degrees of different types of seizure and seizure frequency and have varying levels of abilities to do different things. It’s time to let more people know what exactly epilepsy is, and what to do to help those who suffer from it.

Here are a few more programmes and clips that may be of interest:

Helpful contacts:

  • Epilepsy Action freephone helpline: 0808 800 5050
  • Epilepsy Society helpline: 01494 601 400
  • Young Epilepsy helpline: 01342 831342