Boating with Epilepsy– Take Precautions & Have Fun!
With 200,000 new cases of epilepsy diagnosed every year, there is a chance that you or someone on your boat may have this brain disorder. Do you know what precautions to take before heading out, and what to do if a seizure occurs?
Epilepsy is a neurological condition involving repeated, spontaneous seizures because of disturbed brain function. The abnormally excited electrical signals in the brain cause changes in attention or behavior, including the common “tonic-clonic seizures,” evidenced by rhythmic jerking movements of the body, loss of consciousness, drooling, and loss of urine control. Some people never have tonic-colonic seizures. They may instead suffer “absence” seizures and lose consciousness as they stop what they are doing abruptly and stare blankly before continuing as if nothing happened, or “myoclonic” seizures, a brief jerking of a part of the body (this seizure most often occurs in children under the age of five). Partial seizures may involve weakness, twitching, vertigo, visual changes, and uncontrollable or repetitive behavior, accompanied by an inability to respond to others.
Knowing how to respond if a seizure should occur on a boat is crucial. Sanjay K. Jain, M.D., Attending Neurologist at Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Institute North Shore advises, “Ideally, if one has epilepsy, then one should have a companion come along who knows the individual’s seizures and what to do when a seizure occurs.”
If a trained companion is not onboard, the crew must know the steps to take to administer first aid. Know when and how to administer medication needed to stop a seizure. Stay with the person until the seizure ends and he or she is completely conscious and no longer confused or tired. Remain calm (at least on the outside), talk calmly to the person during and after the seizure, and move objects that may harm the person seizing, but do not hold him or her down or put anything in the mouth.
Time the seizure. If it lasts beyond five minutes from start to finish, immediate emergency assistance is required. Should the person stop breathing, if seizures keep coming one after other, the seizure happened in the water, or injury occurred, Dr. Jain cautions, “The Coast Guard should be notified and necessary arrangements need to be made to have the person transferred to an emergency care setting in a hospital.”
If you are a boater with epilepsy, have a list of medications you are taking handy. Note in writing the specialists you currently see and the diagnosis of your type of seizure disorder. Even when seizures are well controlled, it is always best to prepare yourself and others in case a seizure occurs. Always take medications as normally scheduled, get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated. Dr. Jain recommends that those with epilepsy, “Keep the medications in a water proof container so as to minimize any chances of degradation of the pills due to contact with water. Bring at least a couple of days’ supply of anti-seizure medications if you are traveling for a weekend.”
Many seizure medications speed up overheating and cause photosensitivity, including severe sunburn and blistering of the skin. Stay sheltered from the sun while on the boat, and add extra protection with SPF-protected clothing, a large hat, and sunscreen.
Dr. Jain, a boating enthusiast, knows that a boater with epilepsy can have a wonderful time if everyone takes the proper precaution. “Any activity done out on the water is riskier and fraught with danger as compared to the same activity carried out on land. However, being out on the water is such a wonderful experience; being prepared should make it more enjoyable.”
Story by Andrea Ewell