How Norwood supports those with epilepsy

25 March 2022

Norwood is known for providing personalised care and support for people with often complex learning disabilities, particularly through our Adult Accommodation services. Learning disabilities can, however, often be accompanied by complex health issues, as in one of our services where all but one of the people we support has epilepsy. With the advent of World Epilepsy Day this week, we wanted to raise awareness of the many complexities of caring and supporting learning-disabled individuals with the condition.

For most people living with epilepsy, it’s crucial to understand that managing the condition is just a part of their everyday lives. With the right medication, support and guidance, the epilepsy can be effectively managed. An adult living with the condition will work to understand what triggers their attacks – whether that’s stress, hunger, or tiredness – and try to minimise those factors, reviewing and adapting their medication where necessary in response to their seizure pattern.

There are over 40 types of seizures and it’s important to recognise what constitutes an unusual seizure for the individual and when a habitual seizure which can be managed with medication becomes a medical emergency requiring emergency assistance.

Inevitably there are a myriad of additional challenges when supporting someone with Learning Disabilities and epilepsy, one of which is that the person may not recognise their triggers and signpost when a seizure is about to take hold. Learning disabilities can impact an individual’s ability to communicate an ‘aura’, the warning signs of an impending seizure – such as feelings of numbness, stiffness or twitching in a body part, visual disturbances, or an unusual smell or taste – or be able to respond to them without support.

The daily routine for the people we support with epilepsy can be extremely variable, as one seizure can be particularly debilitating and leave the individual extremely fatigued. A single seizure can also lead to others, which, in addition to the effect of administered medications can require more comprehensive support to help the individual perform everyday personal care activities. In the worst-case scenario, an individual can experience such extreme fatigue following a seizure that they’re left bed-bound, with staff monitoring them at 15-minute intervals to ensure their wellbeing.

Assistive Technology – such as pressure mats and sensors which can alert staff to a seizure onset – plays a really important role in monitoring the people we support in case of nocturnal seizures, although staff will make regular checks as a precaution, or even staying at their bedside for longer periods of monitoring, depending on the circumstances. In the case of multiple seizures, the individual may have lost the entire day to fatigue and recovery.

On a good day though, that routine would be unrecognisable as people we support with learning disabilities and epilepsy can be supported to move freely about their home, with the aid of everyday support from staff and medication, which can help control or reduce the likelihood of a seizure – as well as engaging in activities around the home. Many of those activities we provide are based around music and aromatherapy, which help alleviate stress, which is one of the key known triggers for an epileptic seizure.

Naturally each of the many different seizure patterns requires different medications and a different care plan. Each person we support has an individual care protocol, whatever their health needs, and for those suffering from epilepsy, the plan informs staff what to do in the event of a seizure and how long it should last before administering medication. For the majority of people we support, this would typically be five minutes, but for more severe seizures, this would be reduced to three minutes.

Every seizure manifests itself differently, ranging from a milder vocal seizure, where the individual shouts out before returning to normal, to a more severe convulsing seizure. Due to the varying nature of these seizure patterns and the care, support, and medication they require, Norwood provides regular training to all front-line support staff to best equip them to deal with an individual’s seizures and to provide the personalised care and support we pride ourselves on, whatever the complexity of the individual’s learning disabilities or health issues.

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