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Preparing Young Adults With Epilepsy For College
Preparing for college can be exciting and nerve-wracking for anyone. It can be scary to leave home and head off to college, especially if you have epilepsy. Most teens with epilepsy can become full-time students and continue to work towards a higher education. Advice for parents:
- Speak to your epilepsy team while your teen is still in high school regarding what issues your child may encounter regarding career planning, further studies and suitable jobs.
- Speak to your epilepsy team about transitioning your teens care to an adult provider or a provider close to the school they'll be attending.
- Find out if your child will be able to drive, otherwise attending college in a city with efficient public transportation may need to be a consideration when making decisions on which college to attend.
- As with any teenager, teach your child independent living skills at home
- Responsibility for taking his own medications
- For a few months before college starts, have your teen take full responsibility in their medication regimen. This should include calling in refills, picking up the medication and taking their medications. Keep track if this is being done on time.
- Responsibility for scheduling clinic visits
- Practicing a healthy lifestyle (cooking, cleaning and laundry)
- Encourage your child to develop good study habits and skills while he is still in high school.
- Responsibility for taking his own medications
- Before the school year starts, obtain a comprehensive letter(s) from one or more members of your epilepsy care team. For example, a letter with medical information about your seizures can be helpful in accessing a residence room closer to classes. A letter from a psychologist that outlines your learning profile and special needs may help you get more time to complete exams and papers.
- Come up with a plan with your doctor about what to do in the event of a seizure, cluster of seizures or prolonged seizure. It may make sense to outline this in writing so some of the key people at your school are aware (roommate, school nurse/physician). Similarly, keep a list of all your medications with you, including dose, time of day taken, etc.
- Find out if your school has a pharmacy on campus or if you need to go to a local pharmacy in the area. Be aware, most pharmacies are not open 24 hours; find out the hours of operation, whether or not they stock your medication or have to order it, and how soon you can call in a refill. Consider putting your medications on “auto-refill.”
- Remember to take your medication. Schedules can change, especially in college. Make it part of your routine, such as after brushing your teeth in the morning and at night. Use a pill box with the medication to be taken that day or set an alarm on your watch or cell phone. Carry an extra dose with you in case you forget to take it before you leave. If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if within 2 hours prior to your next dose, take the missed dose, but skip the next scheduled one, and restart your regular schedule thereafter.
- Take care of yourself and get enough rest. Making sure you are eating well and keeping a consistent sleep schedule can help to minimize seizures. Some individuals are more sensitive to sleep deprivation than others.
- Relax. Managing stress is important. Figure out techniques that can lower stress, such as taking a break with friends, listening to music or going to the gym.
- Some general household safety precautions are worth mentioning which include never lock your bathroom door, take showers instead of baths, use the back burners if cooking to avoid accidental burns, use shatterproof containers as much as possible, avoid climbing ladders or high places and don’t sleep on the top bunk.
- Most sports and activities can be safely enjoyed with a few extra precautions. If your health care provider has deemed it safe for you to swim, never swim alone, always go with someone who knows you have seizures or inform the lifeguard. Do not get into a whirlpool or hot tub alone. When in a gym, it’s best to avoid free weights and the treadmill. Check with your health care provider about specific activities you have questions about and whether or not you are able to drive.
- Reporting your condition to the disability office at school is a personal choice. If you are having problems, informing the teacher about your epilepsy condition may allow for special considerations which could benefit your school performance. For example, there can be some flexibility in terms of allowing more time for taking tests and completing assignments if needed.
- Social situations can sometimes involve alcohol. Alcohol can alter the seizure threshold and put an individual at greater risk for having a seizure (typically the next day, not when drinking). Drinking alcohol and sleep deprivation are a particularly dangerous combination. For some, it may be best to avoid alcohol completely.
- Be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your health care provider(s). Do not hesitate to call if you have concerns, need some guidance or if there are any issues related to seizures. They are there to help you.
- Remember your parents are still available to give you help and support if you need it.
Mindl Messinger, clinical pharmacy specialist, neurology/epilepsy