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Wheelchair first aid

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First aid for wheelchair users

wheelchair user

Usually, a person with epilepsy will have a care plan. The care plan will advise how to help the person if they use a wheelchair and have a seizure, and how to help them after the seizure has stopped. If you can't find the care plan, here is some general information about what to do if someone has a seizure while using their wheelchair.

How to help

  • put the wheelchair brakes on.
  • do not try to restrain them or put anything in their mouth.
  • do not try to move them unless their care plan says so.  Moving them could cause injury to either you or the person having the seizure.
  • let them stay sitting in the wheelchair and, if they are wearing a harness or seatbelt, keep it fastened. If they are not wearing a harness or seatbelt, try to gently support them in the wheelchair to avoid them falling.
  • try to support or cushion the person's head, perhaps with a rolled up jumper or head rest if there is one.
  • do not try to bring them round or give them anything to eat or drink until you are sure that they have completely recovered.

Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic means ‘muscle jerk’. Muscle jerks are not always due to epilepsy (for example, some people have them as they fall asleep). Myoclonic seizures are brief but can happen in clusters (many happening close together in time) and often happen shortly after waking.

Tonic and atonic seizures

In an atonic seizure (or 'drop attack') the person’s muscles suddenly relax and they become floppy. If they are standing they often fall, usually forwards, and may injure the front of their head or face. Like tonic seizures, atonic seizures tend to be brief and happen without warning. With both tonic and atonic seizures people usually recover quickly, apart from possible injuries.

Absence seizures

Absence seizures are more common in children than adults and can happen very frequently. During an absence a person becomes unconscious for a short time. They may look blank and stare, or their eyelids might flutter. They will not respond to what is happening around them. If they are walking they may carry on walking but will not be aware of what they are doing.

Seizure types

In March 2017 the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), a group of the world's leading epilepsy professionals, introduced a new method to group seizures. This gives doctors a more accurate way to describe a person's seizures, and helps them to prescribe the most appropriate treatments.


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