Epilepsy and leisure
Living a full and active life
To live full and active lives, and look after our physical and emotional wellbeing, we all need time to rest, relax and exercise. How we spend our leisure time is important and individual to us all, whether or not we have epilepsy. This page looks at some popular leisure activities, listed alphabetically, and suggests how they might be made safer for people with epilepsy. These are only suggestions, and any decisions about leisure activities need to be made on an individual basis.
Making choices about leisure activities
Epilepsy is a very individual condition. How it affects you may be very different to how it affects someone else. Most people with epilepsy live full and active lives, and do the leisure activities that they want to.
Some people with epilepsy, especially if they still have seizures, may have concerns about the safety of some activities. If you have concerns, it may be helpful to consider:
- what your seizures are like;
- when they happen;
- whether you get any warning (know that a seizure is going to happen); and
- what would help make the activity safer for you.
This may help you to make decisions based on your individual situation and avoid unnecessary restrictions.
If you are making choices on behalf of someone else, such as a child or a person with learning disabilities, it is important to involve them in the decision as far as possible. This helps ensure that they are able to take part in the leisure activities they want to, and are not restricted by their epilepsy without good reason.
Looking at safety
How epilepsy affects safety depends on you and your epilepsy. People who have seizures that are controlled with medication may not need the same safety measures as those who still have seizures.
Some activities do not need to be changed to make them safer for people with epilepsy. For others, simple measures might make them safer. For example, having someone with you who knows how to help you if a seizure happens.
One way to think about safety is to do a risk assessment. This may look at what the possible risks are for anyone doing the activity, what it is about your epilepsy that may affect these risks, and what can be done to make the activity safer for you.
Equality Act 2010
Under the Equality Act 2010 people with a disability have rights to use leisure facilities. Epilepsy is a physical, long-term condition and people with epilepsy are protected under the Equality Act even if their seizures are controlled or if they don't consider themselves to be 'disabled'. Leisure providers may need to make adjustments to make a service more user-friendly. If you have specific needs you may want to talk to the organisation to see how they can help. Visit Equality and Human Rights Commision for more information.
Sports and leisure activities
Abseiling, climbing and hill walking
Anyone who does abseiling, climbing or hill walking needs the right expert support and safetly measures. It is important to assess the possible risks for anyone doing the activity, and then think about how your epilepsy may affect those risks.
Having an instructor who knows about your epilepsy means that they can help ensure your safety and the safety of other people with you.
The decision to drink alcohol is a personal choice. How alcohol affects someone with epilepsy depends on the individual, if they are taking anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) and how much alcohol they drink. For most people with epilepsy, the occasional alcoholic drink does not usually cause a problem. It is usually recommended that people with epilepsy have no more than 1-2 units of alcohol per day. The patient information leaflet that comes with your AEDs may have information about drinking alcohol with that particular medication.It may also be useful to consider the following:
Boxing or martial arts sports that involve blows to the head are not recommended for people with epilepsy due to the high risk of head injury.
All cyclists are advised to wear reflective clothing and a cycle helmet approved by British safety standards. If you have seizures, it may be safer to avoid cycling on busy roads and to cycle with someone who can help if you have a seizure.
DIY and gardening
If you have seizures and would like to do your own home improvements, it may be helpful to think about the type and frequency of your seizures, the potential risks of each job, and the risks to your safety.
Knowing your own abilities may help reduce the risk of accidents or injuries. If you are in doubt about doing a job yourself, or the risks involved, you may want to talk to a professional such as an electrician, plumber or gardener.
Extreme sports and adventure sports
Activities like bunjee jumping, hang gliding, snowboarding and whitewater rafting have high levels of excitement, skill and danger. They often involve speed, height and a high level of physical energy. It is a good idea to talk to your GP or specialist about what the risks are for you before trying a new sport or activity. Each sport's governing body can give you information on safety regulations, but they may advise you that the activity is too dangerous for you.
Flying a private plane
If you have a history of seizures, whether you can fly a private plane depends on the type of licence you need. To fly with a Restricted National Private Pilot's Licence (no passengers) you must be seizure-free for one year. To fly with a National Pilot's Licence (with passengers) you must be seizure-free and off anti-epileptic drugs for 10 years. Contact the Civil Aviation Authority on 01293 573700 for more details.
Go-karting and ATV quad biking
In the UK, you do not need a driving licence to drive a go-kart or ATV (all terrain vehicle) quad bike on private land.
The National Karting Association (NKA) recommends that you are seizure-free for one year before karting, and that karting venues ask people to declare any medical conditions that could affect their driving. Some venues may have their own policy on whether people who have seizures are allowed to drive on their circuits.
The British Off-Road Driving Association (BORDA) does not have specific guidelines on quad bikes but most ATV venues would expect you to sign a form to accept your own liability if you have an accident.
It is recommended that everyone wears an approved BHS (British Horse Society) riding hat when horse riding. If you have seizures it is also recommended that you ride with someone who knows what to do when you have a seizure.
Riding for the Disabled has local groups around the UK and can offer special facilities for people with disabilities.
Recreational drugs have particular risks for people with epilepsy. Amphetamines (speed), cocaine, ecstasy and heroin have all been shown to increase the frequency of seizures
Taking cannabis is also not advised if you have epilepsy. Some reports claim cannabis is not harmful, however other research has shown it can lead to an increase in seizures. This may be partly because cannabis can be made up of different compounds, and so the effects on the brain can vary. Further research is being looked at into the effects of using canabis for people with epilepsy.
For some people, using recreational drugs could cause epilepsy to start and may increase the risk of triggering mental health problems. For more information about drugs visit www.talktofrank.com
Sex and relationships
Some people with epilepsy have problems with sex or relationships. Problems such as a low sex drive can happen for a number of different reasons: anxiety, depression, and the side effects of some AEDs can all contribute. Relationships can also be affected by how you or your partner feels about epilepsy.
Talking to your partner and a doctor can help to find the right support and treatment. For example, a doctor may suggest a review of your medication or identify where counselling might be helpful.
Skiing and snowboarding
Snowsport England (the governing body for English snowsports) believes that snowsports should be open to everyone, whether or not they have a disability.
It can be useful to think what the risks to your safety might be if you were to have a seizure on the slopes or ski lift. It may be safer to ski with someone who knows how to help you if you have a seizure.
Team sports such as football or rugby do not necessarily need extra safety measures for someone with epilepsy. However, with any sport that involves contact with other people, there may be a risk of head injuries, which could affect your epilepsy.
It's a good idea if someone on the team or a coach knows about your epilepsy, and how they can help you if you have a seizure.
Television and computer games
Epileptic seizures can sometimes br triggered by certain speeds of flashing or flickering lights, and by some geometric patterns. This is called photosensitive epilepsy and it affects up to 5% of people with epilepsy. For someone with photosensitive epilepsy triggers can include:
- playing video games;
- looking at moving computer graphics;
- watching a faulty television or other light source that flickers slowly; and
- strobe lights.
The common rate for a flashing light to trigger seizures is between 3 and 30 hertz (flashes per second).
It is a good idea for everyone to take regular breaks when watching TV or using a computer, and to watch TV from a distance in a well-lit room.
TV programmes, films and theatre performances often have a warning if they have flashing lights or images. Video and computer games that have fast moving or flickering images may carry a warning on the packaging. Strobe lighting may be used in nightclubs too.
If you are suddenly exposed to a trigger, covering one eye completely with your hand may help reduce the photosensitive effect.
Many people with epilepsy can go on rides depending on how their epilepsy affects them. For some people with epilepsy, excitement or stress due to the rides, noise or crowds could trigger a seizure. Theme parks need to let people know if anything during a ride could make a medical condition worse.
Yoga, and other complementary therapies, can have a number of benefits including improving your fitness.
The deep breathing involved in many forms of yoga aims to be relaxing. Some forms of yoga involve extreme breathing techniques and need extra care.
Many water sports can be made safer for people with epilepsy, by taking the right safety measures. This means considering what risk the activity involves as well as how your epilepsy affects you. For example, there may be different risks for water-skiing than for dinghy sailing if you have seizures where you lose consciousness.
Wearing a lifejacket is recommended for most water sports. It is also important to have someone with you who knows how to help if you have a seizure. This could be a friend or an instructor.
Kayaking and canoeing
The Institute of Sport and Recreation Management says that there can be risks for people with epilepsy who paddle a kayak (sometimes called a canoe). If a kayak overturns when someone has a seizure they could be trapped underneath, and their buoyancy aid could keep them pressed up under the kayak. Although this is a risk for anyone who tips over a kayak, it is more of a risk for someone having a seizure as they may be unconscious or only partly conscious at the time.
There is less risk of being trapped underneath an open canoe (sometimes called a Canadian canoe) during a seizure.
Scuba diving carries risks for anyone. Risks can include drowning, as well as conditions caused by breathing various levels of oxygen or nitrogen at depth.
Scuba diving is not recommended for people who have seizures because of the risk of having a seizure underwater. Having a seizure underwater can bee life-threatening, and may also endanger the life of the diving buddy or other companions.
Once somebody has well-controlled seizures on medication the risk of further seizures is reduced, but is never removed completely. There may also be other risks associated with diving if you take AEDs, but there has been little research to investigate these.
The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) currently says that people must be seizure-free for five years (or three years if seizures only happen in their sleep), and off AEDs for five years, before they consider scuba diving.
If you have seizures, it is a good idea to swim with someone who knows about the type of seizures you have, and how to help you if you have a seizure in the water.
Swimming in the sea, a river, or other open water is more risky than in a swimming pool because of currents, tides, sudden changes in depth, and colder water temperatures, even in summer. If you have a seizure in open water, it may also be harder for someone to see that you are having a seizure, or to be able to help you.
At a swimming pool, you could tell the lifeguards thow they can help you if you have a seizure. Some people swim during quieter swimming sessions so it is easier for the lifeguards to see them.
If you have a seizure in the water, lifeguards or a friend can help you by supporting your head above the water, and gently towing you to a depth where they can stand up, or to the poolside. They can then support you in the water until the seizure stops. If you are near the poolside, they may need to protect you from hitting the side and injuring yourself.
You may need medical attention to check that you have not inhaled water during a seizure, even if you feel fine. It is also important for someone to stay with you afterwards and check that your breathing has returned to normal.
Read about travel and holidays.
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© Epilepsy Society
Information produced September 2012.