In most cases, first responders such as EMTs or the police do a good job when it comes to dealing with people who are having a seizure. However, there have been cases where they have used force against someone who is having or just had a seizure. Sometimes, seizures cause a person to act in ways that they wouldn’t normally act. The seizure may provoke involuntary movements that an EMT or a law enforcement officer could mistake as being aggressive.
Unfortunately, this has the potential to be fatal for the person who is suffering a seizure. When a first responder utilizes restraints on a person who is having or just had a seizure, it can become very dangerous.
Misinterpretation of Intent: When Seizures Provoke Involuntary Responses
Some types of seizures can change the way a person functions. Complex partial seizures can limit a person’s normal communication and cause them to move in an unorganized and involuntary ways. The person may also be unaware of what is happening around them. Sometimes the person may scream, have unnatural movements of the limbs, shout, spit and more. It is very important for first responders to remember that all of these behaviors are involuntary.
This is a good reason for a person with epilepsy to wear a medical identification bracelet. It makes it easy for an EMT or police officer to know what they are dealing with — someone having a seizure versus an out-of-control drunk, strung out junkie or a purposely violent individual.
In the hour or so after the seizure, the person often feels extremely tired and “out of sorts.” It is during this time that they may say belligerent things or become aggressive. Often this is because they're unable to communicate properly at that time. A police officer may view this as being aggressive or as not taking orders properly.
First Responders Trained in Seizures Reduces the Risk of Injury
First responders can reduce the injury or risk of injury to the person if they learn how to recognize the behavior of someone who is experiencing a seizure and know the proper ways to respond. If a family member is present and can explain that the person is epileptic, it is generally safe to assume that the behavior is a result of a seizure.
It is never safe to forcibly restrain someone who is having a seizure or who has recently had a seizure. Restraining the person can actually cause injuries. In addition, because of the confusion that sets in after seizures, the person being restrained might feel the EMT is attacking them, and they could fight back. This could put them, as well as the EMT, in more danger.
Finding the Right Training
First responder training is available through the Epilepsy Foundation. They offer a variety of learning modalities such as classroom-based training, online training, or training manuals and DVDs. After taking the training, first responders will know how to recognize and respond to a seizure. Those who have seizures that cause a first responder to appear at the scene will be safer because of it.