Attending a College
There's more to college than roommates and classes. College is a great time to learn more about what you want to do with your life through various clubs and activities. It can also be a time for numerous late-night parties and pizza orders.
The flexibility of college is also a good time to work on staying healthy and figuring out what works best for you. Are you actually an early morning person as long as you've been getting sufficient sleep each night? Do you do your best studying and concentrating in the late afternoon? Learning these things in your first year can make a difference.
Continue to manage stress, get enough sleep, and eat healthy. You might also want to take advantage of your college's counseling or wellness center. These offices may offer stress management workshops and can offer additional tips. Consider stopping by the campus health center and learning more about their services.
Most higher education institutions provide some type of on-campus health center. The size and services offered at the health center may vary. There may be a huge complex offering everything from eye exams to dental care or it may be a small office that is limited to strep tests and allergy shots. Either way, it's likely to be your first stop if you need a check-up or any blood work. Before you arrive on campus, it's best to contact the health center to find out what services they offer. As part of new student orientation and on-boarding, an institution will likely ask for various medical and vaccination records. They may also require you to provide a proof of health insurance to attend. Many institutions offer student insurance plans with varying coverages that may be worth exploring.
Once you arrive, you can make an appointment to see their doctors for a quick meet and greet but be forewarned that they're usually swamped. If nothing else, it's a good idea to call and confirm that they have your prescriptions on file and don't need any additional information. Additionally, you may want to take the time to identify nearby hospitals in the event that your school's health center is closed during an emergency situation. You're probably not the only student with epilepsy on your campus, but you may be the only one taking your specific medicine. If you use the student health center to refill your prescriptions, try to call about a week or more in advance to ensure you don't run out of medicine.
If your school health center doesn't provide prescription services, you may find it's easier to use a mail order pharmacy than to arrange transportation to a local pharmacy. Ask your insurance company if they participate in any mail order pharmacy services and ask your doctor to write your prescriptions in three-month orders. As an added benefit, you might find that your medicine is cheaper through the mail. However, make sure to learn your campus’ policy for receiving packages and mail during your time on-campus. Many institutions have limited mail or package pick-up hours that may be closed during the evening or on weekends.
Dealing with Insurance
Whether you use the college's insurance plan or remain on your parents' plan, you'll want to find out how using the student health center will affect you in terms of co-pays and deductibles (for more on these, click here). If you use the university's insurance plan, make sure you read the fine print about visiting doctors off-campus during holiday breaks or over summer vacation. Remember that student health centers generally don't provide the same services or access to medical professionals that you may be used to. Many school health centers have reduced hours during school breaks and tend to focus more on basic health needs. If your epilepsy needs regular monitoring by a health care professional, you may want to find a good doctor near your college. Your current doctor can work with you to open a strong line of communication with your doctor and to ensure that you receive the care and monitoring you need. Remember that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 now allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26, and that you cannot be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
College may be one of the only times when you'll get access to a gorgeous new gym or recreation center for little to no cost. Many institutions provide students free access to their workout facilities, fitness classes, and intramural/social sport leagues. Consider these great opportunities to find a new hobby that also keeps you healthy. Staying active can positively impact your mental health. Of course, it's important to remember to consult with your healthcare team to learn what activities you should focus on or avoid due to your epilepsy.
Paying for College
Whether you're taking out loans, working a part-time job or financing your way through college on scholarship, finances can be a stressor during college. You can contact your institution’s financial aid office to meet with someone to better understand the overall costs associated with your attendance. Meeting with a financial aid counselor may also help you learn about other scholarships, grants, or loan opportunities you may be unaware of.
Did you know there are scholarships especially for people with epilepsy? There may be additional restrictions, but here's a quick list.
Living with Roommates
College might be your first time living on your own, but in many cases, you may be living with roommates. If you're used to having your own room and suddenly have to share, that can be a transition all its own. Student housing looks different at every university and can range from single rooms, double rooms, or even suite-style living. Some institutions offer apartment-style housing as well, where three to six students share a suite with several bathrooms, a kitchen, and common area. Although a suite means you're less likely to be sharing a bedroom, it also means you'll have more roommates in total.
Deciding Who to Tell
It's probably wise to tell your roommate about your epilepsy, especially if you share a room. If you live with multiple roommates, you might want to tell everyone or decide to tell the one or two people with whom you've grown closest. Disclosing information about your epilepsy may be difficult to do, but doing so can help those living with you feel more prepared to help. Having a seizure action plan you can share with others is a great way to start the conversation.
If you live in a residence hall with a Resident Assistant (RA), you may want to tell your RA about your epilepsy. If you have a seizure, chances are your peers will call the RA and it's important that they know what to do to support you. Residence halls often have professional staff members living in them to support students 24 hours a day. Disclosing details about your epilepsy with this team can help better support you if you have seizures while living in the hall. If you feel comfortable, you can ask your RA to let you talk about epilepsy during a monthly floor or dorm gathering. You can also ask to decorate a floor bulletin board with information on epilepsy.
How and What to Tell
How much information you share is up to you. You might just want to tell someone that you have epilepsy, describe your usual seizures, and let them know the best first aid strategy. They may have more questions, especially if they're a pre-med or nursing major. If you feel comfortable answering their questions, feel free. If you don't feel comfortable, you might want to give them a brochure on epilepsy or show them this website and offer to talk about it later if they still have questions. The Epilepsy Foundation offers free virtual Seizure First Aid training that may be helpful to promote as well.
If you have auras or a distinct feeling before a seizure arrives, you may want to describe these feelings or actions to your roommates and RA. If they know the signs of an impending seizure, they can help to move you to a safe place before the seizure starts. For times when you are alone, we recommend wearing a seizure alert device or a medical I.D. bracelet or necklace that can alert others about your epilepsy and seizures when needed. You'll also want to let people know when they should call 911, your doctor or your parents. Tell them to call 911 if your seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, you have an injury, you're having trouble breathing, or if you are having trouble waking after the seizure. Make sure to detail any other important requests in your seizure action plan.
Seizures look scary, but you've experienced them before. Remember, your friends, classmates, and roommates may have never seen a seizure before and only know about them based on what they have seen on TV. Try to acknowledge their concerns with positive reinforcements, but you can also let people know that epilepsy is just a small part of your life and it’s not stopping you. You may want to ask people to “watch out, not watch over” you.Finally, it’s always a good idea to post first aid information on your room fridge or in a central location accessible to your roommates. List contact numbers for your doctor and parents with specific instructions. It may be helpful to purchase a stopwatch with a magnet on the back (or attach one with superglue) and put that on the fridge too. If you live in a single room, hang first aid directions on your room door and keep a stopwatch hanging on the door knob. People who have never seen a seizure before will think it lasts much longer than it actually did.
Epilepsy and College: Strategies for Success
Learn more about planning ahead for college to lessen your risks, improve safety, and increase the chance of a successful college experience both in and out of the classroom in a webinar with Elaine Kiriakopoulos MD, Katherine C. Nickels MD, and Allison Nichols Esq. from August 14, 2019.
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