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School of Medicine
Teens with Epilepsy: 5 Ways Parents Can Help
It’s natural for teenagers and young adults to seek more independence, but when it comes to those living with epilepsy, controlling seizures is still essential.
Here are five tips for parents who want to encourage their children’s independence while helping them stay safe.
1. Stress consistency.
The single most important aspect of controlling seizures is taking medications regularly and consistently.
Nathan Crone, professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins Epilepsy Center, says that while younger children are usually compliant with taking their seizure medicines at their parents’ bidding, teens are more likely to be ambivalent about taking medications and may be less consistent.
“The problem is that even one missed pill can result in a seizure,” says Crone, “but not always. So if a patient forgets a pill and a seizure doesn’t happen, they may mistakenly think they no longer need the medicine.”
2. Discuss special college concerns.
Patients with epilepsy who are planning to go away to college need to understand that they’ll have to approach campus life a little differently than some of their peers.
Sleep deprivation and drinking alcohol are serious seizure risks. All-nighters spent cramming for exams are out, so students with epilepsy will need to cultivate more regular study habits.
Luckily, there’s a reward. “When patients keep their seizures under control, they’re able to drive, which is probably the No. 1 motivator,” says Crone.
3. Take care of your own health.
Even older teens respect good health habits they learn at home. If you eat right, don’t drink alcohol and get the rest you need, your children are paying attention.
“It’s important for parents to set a good example,” says Crone. “If kids grow up seeing you taking your medications regularly and managing your own health, they’re more likely to do that for themselves as young adults.”
4. Advocate for your teen.
Ask your child about how their medicines are working and how they feel. If you learn your child is experiencing side effects from their medication(s), take action and help them reach out to their neurologist. A few minor adjustments can result in seizure control with few or no medication problems.
“Although there can be some trial and error with epilepsy drugs, there are more options than ever now, and more are becoming available all the time,” Crone says. “Even for people who don’t respond to medications, there’s a lot we can do.”
5. Expect more.
Parents with teenagers who have epilepsy are understandably a bit nervous as their sons and daughters start to spread their wings and venture from the nest.
But Crone says it’s important to encourage your daughter or son to do as much as possible while recognizing and managing the risks. “Help them see that they’re not living with a disability. They can lead normal, active lives,” he says.
Likewise, he says, people with epilepsy can — and should — ask more from their physicians and treatment than perhaps they realize.
“It’s reasonable to expect a seizure-free life without side effects from medications,” he says. “So patients shouldn’t accept anything less.”