Amusement Parks and Seizures: What Every Parent Should Know

As summer gets under way, many people are heading to amusement parks seeking fun and thrills. Yet for parents of children with epilepsy, venturing to amusement parks requires more than just having fun – it also calls for careful planning.

Dr. Janice Buelow, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Indiana University, believes parents need to think about what their child with epilepsy may experience at the amusement park. “There are several things parents of children with epilepsy need to consider such as whether or not a particular ride can trigger their child’s seizures via strobe lights or loud sounds. Also, parents need to ask the question, “If my child loses consciousness or has one of their typical seizures on a ride, what would happen? Would my child be safe?” Buelow also contends that the safety of a child in an amusement park setting depends a lot on how well-controlled their seizures are as well as how skillfully a parent problem solves before going to the amusement park. “Rides at an amusement park put our bodies in an unnatural state because of what they do to our sense of balance and equilibrium, not to mention the fact that we are in the sun for a prolonged period of time and aren’t drinking or eating normally, and maybe not taking seizure medications at the right time. Therefore, it is up to the parents to try to maintain as normal a routine as possible for their child so as not to increase the likelihood of a seizure as well as to exercise common sense when choosing rides for their child to go on,” she said.

Vacationing at Theme Parks

Experts advise parents planning a vacation to any of the theme parks, such as Disney World, to take into account all of the changes that occur in the child’s routine. “When traveling to Disney, for example, kids become very excited and don’t sleep. This sleep deprivation is a risk factor for seizures, so it is imperative that parents ensure there is some semblance of normal sleep patterns while on vacation,” said Steven Weinstein, M.D., Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at George Washington University and Vice Chairman of Neurology, Children’s Hospital of D.C. Weinstein also recommends that parents investigate all of the shows and rides featured at the park and identify, prior to arriving, what is safe for their child to participate in. Some parks specifically post warnings nearby to the entrances of rides excluding people with particular medical conditions, such as epilepsy, from taking part. Buelow agreed with Weinstein and said, “Before you go, make sure you walk through a scenario of each ride with your child. It is important to give your child explanations to deal with the fact that they may not be able to go on rides other children can go on. Therefore, teach your child to say, ‘I choose not to go on this ride because my safety is more important,’ instead of ‘I can’t go on this ride because I have epilepsy.’ Through these messages children with epilepsy can learn to feel more empowered and able to learn to make safe choices for themselves.”

Both Weinstein and Buelow also advise parents to make their first stop at the first-aid station upon entering the amusement park. They also recommend that if your child is being accompanied by someone other than you to make sure the caregiver familiarizes themselves not only with the first-aid staff members at the park, but also knows what to do in the event of a seizure.

Disney Theme Parks

“Unlike many smaller amusement parks, Disney theme parks rides are adequately marked with signage indicating use of strobe lights, loud noise and other factors which may trigger seizures,” said Deb Koma, Senior Editor of ALL EARS®, an unofficial weekly e-zine about Walt Disney World, and co-author of the book, PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs. Disney theme parks also have first-aid stations staffed by licensed healthcare professionals trained to deal with medical situations such as seizures. In addition, each first-aid station has private rooms, which according to Koma is a nice amenity in the event a child has a seizure and needs a quiet place to recover.

No one knows how well-equipped Disney is to handle a seizure event better than Amy Stoll. A native of Louisville, Kentucky and frequent visitor of Disney, Stoll recently returned from what some may consider a miserable trip to Disney. Halfway through enjoying the sights at Epcot theme park she had several tonic-clonic seizures. “I really have to commend the medical team at Disney as well as the paramedics. They were very sensitive to the fact that I had the right to say whether I wanted to go to the hospital, and they really handled my seizures as well as my own medical team would have.” Having traveled alone to Disney she advises others with epilepsy traveling alone to stop by the first-aid station and inform the staff of how a seizure should be handled if it occurs. She also recommends that people with epilepsy make sure to update their medical alert information prior to traveling to Disney. “It is so important to have all of your medication information and contact information updated especially if you are traveling alone because you won’t be able to communicate these things during a seizure and you won’t have anyone else with you who knows the nature of your epilepsy,” she said. Stoll’s recent experience has not hindered her desire to return to Disney. She has learned very valuable lessons and said, lightheartedly, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” She hopes others will heed her advice and plans to return to Disney within the next few months, wiser and seizure-free. If you or someone you know has epilepsy and are planning a trip to Disney click on the following link for more safety tips: www.allearsnet.com/pl/epi.htm


Tips from the experts on how to prepare for a day at an amusement park

  • Talk to your child’s neurologist before going on an extended trip to an amusement park

  • Update your child’s medical alert bracelet information and make sure they are wearing it at all times

  • If you are unsure of whether a ride is a potential safety risk, err on the side of caution and don’t be afraid to ask a staff person if there are strobe lights or any other risk factor which may trigger a seizure

  • Familiarize yourself with the location and medical staff at the first-aid station

  • Explore in advance which rides are available at the park

  • Talk to your child about making safe ride choices

  • Take frequent breaks throughout the day

  • Maintain same routine as at home in terms of medication administration, sleep schedule

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The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives.

 
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