Last year there were four incidents statewide involving police mistaking epileptic seizures for aggressive behavior by individuals.
Since then the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia has sent a complete law enforcement training guide, including a manual, DVD and video, to local police departments across the state. The goal of the training is to provide up-to-date information about epilepsy and seizure first aid.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding and discrimination," said Patty Hood, Hampton Roads regional director for the foundation, which conducts seizure training for individuals and caregivers in the community.
Hood is starting a support group on the Peninsula for those affected by the seizure disorder as many are not allowed to drive, which makes it difficult for them to attend existing groups in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, you must be seizure-free for at least six months in order to drive, and people with a history of seizures must have a physician's approval.
"The support groups help people with information and it's a source of social getting-out. Often it's the only time they really talk about their situation. They feel alone," Hood said. "Sometimes they just need an outlet." The groups are particularly helpful for those who are first diagnosed and for those who are struggling to control the disorder with multiple medications as they learn from others' experiences.
Approximately 100,000 people in Virginia live with epilepsy, and in almost two-thirds of cases the cause is not known, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Hood noted that epilepsy, while more common in children and seniors, can strike at any age.
"There are many people in their 30s, just beginning careers," she said. "There's no commonality. That's the fearful thing. You don't know when you go to the grocery store if you're going to embarrass yourself."
Epilepsy is the term used to describe two or more unprovoked seizures. There are many kinds of seizures and people may not recognize them as such, so it often takes an extended time to diagnose.
Known causes include head injuries, stroke, brain tumors, poisoning and serious infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis. "Many of our returning military personnel who have traumatic brain injury develop epilepsy," Hood said.
Salasky can be reached by phone at 757-247-4784.
What: 2014 National Walk for Epilepsy
Where: Washington, D.C.
When: Saturday, March 22
Find a team: Go to http://giving.epilepsyfoundation.org, then join Deborah Lannen or Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, or create your own team.
Interested in a support group? Call Patty Hood, 757-652-6565 or send email to efva.hr@gmail. Information about epilepsy and EFVA services is available at http://www.efva.org, or by calling 434-924-8669.