New Years’ resolutions will bring many people to JCCs for exercise and weight loss. Since about 1.5 million people in the US suffer from some type of seizure disorder, it is certain that some of the newcomers will be people who suffer seizures.
The severity of a seizure is determined by its type and length. Most people’s visual image of a seizure involves a person whose muscles are wrenching violently, but most seizures actually result only in a one or two minute altered state of consciousness and loss of muscle tone.
Swimming and other water activities are ideal ways to begin an exercise program, but they hold inherent risk for individuals prone to seizures. Seemingly less serious seizures can be deadly in the water because the person becomes limp and unresponsive which is the reason that a bathtub is a common place for people with seizures to drown.
People with seizures can drown even if they know how to swim. These drownings can occur quickly and quietly, often giving the lifeguard little time to respond.
Prevention is therefore critical.
Redwoods’ insured organizations reported 172 seizures from December 2007 to December 2008. These occurred in many places: locker rooms, cardio-floors, child watch areas, after-school sites, and pools.
A recent article published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, states that people with epilepsy have a 15 to 19 times greater risk of drowning than do people in the general population. The article also states that this risk was highest in people who have both epilepsy and a learning disability. The study found that the increased risk of drowning is greater with adults than it is with children because of the direct supervision generally given by a parent or caregiver. During the time period, 75% of the seizures that occurred in Redwoods’ insured pools involved individuals who were over 18 years old.
Seizures during exercise are reportedly rare when overexertion, hypothermia (decrease in body temperature), dehydration, hypoventilation (breath holding), and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are avoided, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Photosensitivity is a rare trigger – if this is a known problem the swimmer should wear polarized goggles or sunglasses when in the pool.
Regardless of their history of frequency or severity, people with seizures should follow these guidelines:
Following are a few steps that can prepare your camp to handle seizures in the water.
It’s not just kids who are at risk. Seizures in the water can happen quickly and are often very difficult to recognize. Lifeguards should remain diligent when scanning lap swimmers, open swimmers, and special needs individuals. The best preparation is education, communication, and repeated practice of emergency response techniques for seizures in the water.
Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about JCC risk management issues.