How epilepsy can affect learning and the university experience
There are lots of things you could think about doing to reduce any impact epilepsy may have on your learning and university life. You might have lots of ideas of your own about what is best for you or it may be worth speaking to your university's disability advisor to see what help they can offer.
Find out about epilepsy
Many people feel that finding out as much as possible about epilepsy can help them to understand their condition better.
There’s loads of information about epilepsy on our website or you can call our confidential helpline.
Know your epilepsy
General information about epilepsy can be very helpful – but how does it apply to you?
Learning more about your epilepsy might help you to identify whether your seizures follow a pattern (for example, do they happen if you are very tired, or at particular times of the month?). Looking for triggers for your seizures (situations that bring on a seizure) might mean that you can avoid situations that are likely to ‘set off’ seizures. It might also help you to develop ways of managing your epilepsy.
You might find that keeping a seizure diary helps you to keep track of when seizures happen, and to look for patterns and triggers for your seizures. And, if you are taking medication for your seizures, keeping a diary of when seizures happen might help you to work out whether the medication is being successful in reducing or stopping your seizures.
How you learn and work best
Are you better with private study, group work, lectures or practical work? If you are good at studying, then an academic course might be right for you. If you are better at practical work then a vocational course may suit you better. Do you prefer course work or exams? Have a look through the course prospectus or get in touch with the university to find out more about how courses are run and assessed.
You could also think about whether doing the course over a longer period of time would help. You could then contact the university to dicuss whether this would be an option.
How you feel
Epilepsy, seizures, and medication can affect how you feel both physically and emotionally. Seizures can cause injury or make you feel tired and 'out of sorts'. You may be quite relaxed about your epilepsy or it may make you stressed or depressed. All these feelings can affect your well-being, concentration or memory.
Being able to manage your seizures so that you have the fewest seizures possible and they have minimal impact on your life, might help improve how you feel physically and emotionally.
Generally looking after yourself (getting enough sleep, eating well, and doing things that you enjoy) can also all help. Some people find it helpful to talk to friends or to a university counsellor.
The effects of epilepsy
Having epilepsy can affect you in lots of ways. This can be because of the cause of your epilepsy, because of the impact of your seizures, tiredness, or because of any medication or treatment you receive for your epilepsy.
The cause of your epilepsy
There are lots of reasons why someone might have epilepsy. Causes of epilepsy vary from inherited conditions to head injuries. You may or may not know why you have got epilepsy.
If your epilepsy is the result of an illness or brain injury, this cause itself could affect you. For example, a cause that affects the temporal lobe of your brain could affect your memory, or maybe the cause of your epilepsy could also affect your ability to concentrate.
The impact of your seizures
The impact of your seizures depends on how they affect you. If your seizures are controlled by medication, you might find that they have no impact on you at all.
Some seizures may not affect you physically. Other seizures may cause you to behave in a strange way or you may fall down, and this can cause injuries that you may need to recover from. Tonic Clonic seizures (where you fall and shake) may affect you for some time afterwards. Letting your friends, lecturers and tutors know about your epilepsy may help them to understand and support you better.
If you have seizures, sometimes they may take some time to recover from. While some people may be able to go about their normal activities quickly after a seizure, others may feel tired and need to sleep and take time to rest afterwards.
Having seizures at night can affect the amount and quality of your sleep. This lack of sleep can also have an impact on you and your learning. Explaining this to tutors can help them to understand and support you.
For some people, tiredness can also be a trigger for seizures. Having fun when you go out is important but getting enough sleep and being aware of your triggers can help reduce seizures and their impact.
Most people with epilepsy have their seizures controlled with medication. But whether your siezures are controlled or not, taking medication or other forms of treatment can also affect you.
Not everyone experiences side effects from medication but, for some people, side effects can make them tired or drowsy, or can make it harder to think and process information, or to learn or remember things. It may help to work out the best time of day to take medication or to speak to your neurologist about the most appropriate medication for you as a student.
For some people with epilepsy, having epilepsy surgery can help to reduce or stop seizures. While surgery may help to reduce the impact of having seizures, surgery itself can potentially cause problems, particularly with memory. When someone is being considered for epilepsy surgery, the possible impact of surgery, and how their memory may be affected, will be carefully considered to see whether surgery is suitable. If surgery is an option for you, you may want to talk through your university plans with your neurosurgeon to discuss any impact on your learning.
Memory and concentration
For some people, epilepsy and seizures can affect their memory and ability to take in, store and retrieve information. This can happen during and after a seizure. It may be an ongoing issue or it may only happen following seizures. If your memory is affected, memory aids and techniques may help. Also mobile phones can be a useful reminder. You may be able to have someone to take lecture notes for you or you could use a laptop. You may be able to get a disabled student's allowance to help with the cost.
Seizures can affect your concentration both during and after a seizure. If they happen during classes or lectures, it can be hard to concentrate on what is being said or to take notes.
If you know that your epilepsy affects your ability to concentrate, having someone to take notes for you might be helpful. You might also find that certain times of the day are better for studying. For example, if you have seizures during the night or early morning, studying late in the day, once you have recovered, might be better.
Disrupted classes or lectures
If you have a seizure during a class or lectures, it can be disruptive for you. Depending on how your seizures affect you, it may be only a minor disruption, or you may need to go somewhere quiet to recover, which will take you out of the class.
You could plan ahead for what you want to happen if you have a seizure during classes or lectures. It might help to talk to your lecturers about what your seizures are like, how they affect you and what you want to happen if you have one. This could help to make sure you are not taken out of a class or lecture unnecessarily, or that you have a place to recover, if you need to. It could help to make sure you are treated how you want to be treated during and after a seizure.
If your seizures mean that you miss lectures, lecturers may be able to email you notes or slides that you have missed or they may be on the university intranet, or friends may be happy to share their notes.
Many people find revising for and taking exams worrying and stressful. This could cause more seizures than usual, if stress is a trigger for you. Planning your revision in advance might make you feel more confident about getting it all done, and help you to be less stressed. Revising somewhere quiet and at the best time of the day for you might also help with concentration and memory.
If having epilepsy affects your memory and your thinking speed, you might find that some sort of "special provision" can help – for example, being able to take your exams in a separate room or having more time to complete the exam. You might be able to have someone to write for you in an exam. This will need planning and you would need to talk to your lecturers and tutors about it.
Practical work and course work
If your course includes practical or course work, you may find that your epilepsy affects this. For example, if you are doing practical work in a laboratory and you have a seizure, might this be a safety risk for you? Or, if you are doing a course with physical activities, how might having a seizure affect you?
Thinking about the type of course you are doing, and the risks from having seizures, may help you to plan ahead. It is important to be realistic about potential risks. For example, if you have a warning before a seizure, this might give you enough time to get to a safe place before the seizure starts, so your seizures may not pose any risk.
Many situations can be made safer with simple measures, and it might help to think of some ideas yourself or to talk them through with your lecturers or tutors.
Some university degrees include placements as part of the course. Even if your university lecturers and tutors know about your epilepsy, the staff at your placement may not.
Thinking about what the placement will be, and getting in touch with the people there as soon as possible, might help them to understand your epilepsy. It is important to be realistic about whether your epilepsy might affect the placement,and to look at ways of making the placement safer, if necessary. It may be worth talking to your tutors, and enlisting their help in liaising with the placement.
Living life to the full
Tring to find ways to make epilepsy just a part of your life might help you to make the most of going to university. The key to achieving a fuller life might be taking care of yourself, taking control of your epilepsy, plannning ahead and making the most of what help and support is available.
Finding people to talk to about your epilepsy, sharing experiences with other people or reading about people’s experiences might help you to feel that there are other people ‘out there’ who understand what you are going through. Try our socal media channels or Youth Health Talk
There are a number of other websites and forums such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service UCAS and the National Union of students (NUS) or studentastic, the student room and studential that offer information and support.
If you would like to talk to someone about anything you have read here, you can call our epilepsy helpline.
Information produced: September 2021
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