If you’re dealing with epilepsy, there’s a lot you can do to ensure you have a great time at Disney World. First a reminder to consult your doctor before going to Disney World to see if he or she can provide any information on how to avoid a seizure with your particular condition. Here are some thoughts and suggestions for you.
We spoke with Kay Taylor, a Nurse Practitioner and the Director of Clinical Services in the Pediatric Neurology, Epilepsy Center of Central Florida (www.pediatricneurologypa.com). We’ll share her suggestions as well as some others in this article.
Kay had some great suggestions, and felt that those with epilepsy can usually do all the normal activities at Disney as long as someone is with them in case of seizure. The following are her suggestions, along with some of ours, and below that in the More Epilepsy Information section are some additional ideas.
If you have epilepsy, Kay recommends that you don’t travel to Disney World alone.
Kay feels strongly that it’s not a good idea for those with epilepsy to travel alone. Those who are accompanying a person with epilepsy should become familiar with first aid procedures. Visit the Epilepsy Foundation website for directions: Seizure First Aid
Consider printing out the directions to bring with you. The website gives you the option of seeing it in Spanish as well. Kay feels it’s always important to keep safety in mind.
What to bring to Disney World if you have epilepsy
Medications: If you have emergency medication for seizure control, you should bring much more than you need. So if you’re staying for a week, bring a two week supply just in case something unexpected occurs. In addition to bringing extra emergency medication, bring extra anti-seizure medication.
Doctor’s information: Also be sure to bring the name, phone number and address of your home neurologist. If there’s a problem, you or the doctor you’re consulting with will need to contact them.
Medical documentation: Kay recommends that you bring a copy of your last EEG report. If you have a problem it could tell the Orlando area doctors what type of seizure disorder you have, and it can help them make medication choices.
Dealing with lights at Disney World
According to Kay, lights that do not strobe shouldn’t cause a problem for epileptics. Nurse Sue Mickelson who is an admin for our Disney World focused Facebook group (and Disney expert in my opinion) said the following about strobe lights at Disney:
“There are not actually any attractions at WDW that use lights that are technically strobe lights (i.e, fast, regular flashes of light), and Disney does not have any warnings for seizures and/or strobe lights on any attractions. Where they do have flashing lights, they are always irregularly flashing, which is a different situation.
Most true strobe lights flash many times per second, but slowing to 5 flashes per second or less means that the majority of even photosensitive epileptics are not going to have a problem. Only about 3-7% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive and have problems with lights; of those, only about 5% would have a problem with a light flashing 5 times per second or less.”
Kay says that most of those with epilepsy are not impacted by strobe lights, and many of those who are impacted have this sensitivity well controlled by their medication.
If you have strobe sensitivity, Kay suggests that you avoid rides that have these lights. She notes that roller coaster rides often have strobe light displays that seem to be coming right at you, and suggests avoiding them.
See below for additional information on what to do if you encounter lights that are bothering you. Also see below for rides and shows with light effects.
Epilepsy and restraints on rides at Disney World
Kay suggests that if you go on a roller coaster or any ride that requires strength to stay in your chair such as spinning rides, make sure the ride car has a harness, not just a lap belt. Avoid rides that only have lap belts because if you have a seizure, you won’t be able to keep yourself from falling. Always make sure you’re safely strapped in when you ride. (Author’s note: I’d suggest avoiding rides altogether that require strength to stay upright in your seat and don’t have belts or restraints at all, such as the tea cups in Magic Kingdom.) If you’re riding bikes, have a helmet on in case you fall off your bike.
Stress and the impact on seizures
Kay says that any kind of stress can aggravate seizures. If you do find that you’re body has been stressed, do what you can to calm it down to help avoid a seizure. Stressors that are common with Disney visitors include:
- Low blood sugar
- Sunburn (check out our article called Managing Sun & Heat Sensitivity at Disney World)
- Lack of sleep
- Just plain exhaustion from overdoing it
To avoid and control these issues, Kay recommends the following:
- Drinking an electrolyte drink such as Gatorade, as well as plenty of water.
- Plan on getting at least 8-10 hours of sleep a night.
- Be sure to eat at least 3 meals a day.
- Avoid excessive sugar which can cause blood sugar fluctuations.
- Apply sunscreen liberally before you go outside, and bring more with you.
Kay recommends bringing any medicines you might need for things like cold or fever. A fever can cause seizures. If you do have a fever, Tylenol and Motrin or Advil can bring a fever down. She suggests you carry one of these medications with you wherever you go, so if a fever occurs when you’re out, you can take it immediately. Also bring cold or virus medications since viral illnesses stress the body and can cause seizures.
Ride anxiety and doing new things that are anxiety provoking can be a trigger for some. Here’s the experience of one person who found fear and anxiety impacted her epilepsy:
The lights were not as much a deal to me. But lack of sleep, over exertion, and dehydration were triggers. As well as stress and nerves. Standing in line to ride a ride I was scared of riding or being scared on a ride was a major trigger. Over Excitement or adrenaline can be a trigger. For me it was adrenaline through fear. —Brittany Rakas
So if you know that fear and anxiety could be a trigger, you may want to stick to rides and attractions that don’t cause anxiety for you.
Here’s how one mom handled the heat trigger issue:
our 12 year old son has epilepsy and even though his was well controlled by meds at the time I was still concerned the August heat and the long time walking would effect him. We took breaks at midday, and he played in the pool to keep cool. Thankfully it didn’t impact him. He also has Crohn’s disease and we actually found the amount of exercise increased his appetite and helped his Crohn’s. So a win win holiday last year —Karen Hudson
Know what hospitals are around Disney
Before coming to Disney, check out the local hospitals here. If something happens you should know exactly where to go.
More thoughts from us on managing at Disney World for those with Epilepsy
How do you know if you can safely go on a certain ride or see a particular show?
Disney makes use of a wide variety of light effects outdoors throughout the parks, resorts and Disney Springs, and in most of the park attractions. Of course there may be different seizure triggers for different people. Disney’s Guests with Disabilities department [(407) 560-2547] says that the attractions are changed so often that they’re not able to keep up-to-date information for guests with epilepsy or seizure disorders. Even Guest Relations will not have information that’s up to date. They recommend that you ask a cast member at each attraction.
At the parks, as Disney recommends, we also suggest that you check for your triggers with a cast member at each attraction, but be sure they’ve been in the attraction for the full ride or show very recently. If not, ask to speak with someone who has. Even if they have experienced the attraction recently, keep in mind that they may not have noticed your potential triggers because it may not be something they would ordinarily notice or think about.
If there’s any uncertainty, have another member of your party who’s familiar with your condition and triggers try the attraction first. If you’re still uncertain, skip the attraction. There’s so much else to do at Disney, it’s just not worth it to take a risk.
Medication & scheduling while at Disney World
Be sure to read the Managing Medication & Medical Supplies While at Disney World article.
Carry more medication than you need with you in the parks. Be sure to take them on time. Contributor Sue Mickelson sets an alarm to make sure they give their daughter her medication on time.
Medical Marijuana and/or CBD oil and Disney World
If you’re taking medical marijuana or CBD for seizures, be sure to check the laws on the TSA website before traveling. Here’s the link:
Due to the restrictions, here’s what Sue Mickelson did for her daughter prior to visiting Disney World:
“We’ve made 2 trips since our daughter started medical marijuana. Until/unless the laws change, it can’t legally be brought into federal buildings (including airports) or brought over state lines, and can’t be legally packed in checked bags. We worked with her providers to find a close equivalent CBD product that contains CBD, but not THC (the compound ingredient that is actually illegal). We were able to go on the CBD product website and get a printout of the actual batch composition, which shows that the THC amount in the product is below the legal limit for CBD transport.” —Sue Mickelson
Watch your sleep cycles while at Disney World
It’s our understanding that changing your sleep/wake cycles or medication times can make some people more vulnerable to seizures. Do your best to get plenty of rest. If you can keep the schedule you normally keep at home, it might help your body cope with the other changes you’ll encounter at Disney. This would include going to bed and waking up at the same time that you’re used to, eating on schedule and taking your medications at the same time you ordinarily take them.
More about managing in the Disney World parks
Staying safe and healthy while having a great time is your goal! Here are some more ideas that may help.
DAS: Disney has something called the Disability Access System. This system allows you to do most of your waiting outside the regular ride or show queues. Take a look at this article on the DAS to see if you’d benefit from it, how to ask for it, and how to use it.
What to do with flashing lights if you’re sensitive: Most people will have time to notice the lights and look away, but very sensitive people might be bothered regardless. The Epilepsy Foundation recommends covering only ONE eye so that each eye sends different input to the brain. They also recommend not just closing the eyes since the red filtered light that comes thru closed eyelids is as much of a problem as light coming thru open eyes. So if you encounter lights that could be a problem, don’t look at them. Turn away, put your head down and place your hands over ONE eye so the light won’t come through your eyelid. Visit their site for more information: Photosensitivity and Seizures
Some people find it effective to carry something to cover their eye(s) with such as a sweater, scarf or bandanna. Amazon and many pharmacies sell sleep masks that are made to block light. These would be easy to carry and use.
Take Rest breaks: While at Disney, it’s a good idea to take rest breaks if you feel you need them. It’s tempting to push yourself because there’s just so much to see and do. However, if you take that rest you’ll be able to enjoy far more of Disney than if you overdo it and have a seizure.
Take breaks in air conditioned locations such as restaurants. Many of the full-service restaurants have a waiting area you may be able to rest in. First Aid is an air-conditioned location found in each park where you can rest in a semi-private bed. You can read more about First Aid Stations in the Parks here.
The other option is to go back to your hotel room to rest. Staying on Disney property makes this more convenient.
Avoid over-exertion: Pace yourself carefully if over-exertion is a trigger. If you have mobility issues and find it hard to stay on your feet or walk for hours at a time, consider getting a wheelchair or scooter. For many people this can cut down dramatically on physical and mental fatigue. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea or unsure if you need it, read this article titled Should I Walk or Use a Wheelchair/Scooter on my Disney World Trip?
But… Avoid using an ECV (electric convenience vehicle or mobility scooter) if you don’t tend to have a warning before a seizure, your seizures are not well controlled, and/or you’re not cleared to drive a car. Instead, use a wheelchair if someone in your party can push you.
Scooters are heavy and are capable of moving fast. It would be possible to have a serious accident if you lost control. If you always have warning before a seizure and you are sure you’ll have the ability to stop and turn off your ECV prior to an episode, an ECV may be a good option for you. Since using an ECV does require concentration, especially if the parks are crowded, some people do find them mentally taxing. So while they are clearly less physically taxing than walking and standing, you’ll need to be the judge of what’s best for you.
Hydration is important: Dehydration is another frequent seizure trigger. As Kay Taylor mentioned above, it’s important to stay hydrated. It’s so easy to get dehydrated in the Florida sun, particularly with all the walking involved at Disney. This can happen even in the winter and on cloudy days. You may not even realize it’s happening to you, so you’ll want to stay aware and drink frequently. You can buy bottled water at almost any vending station at Disney and near most of the restrooms you’ll find water fountains. You can also get free filtered water at any quick service restaurant in the parks.
Outdoor lights: Within the parks you’ll encounter some outdoor lights. This is especially true at night. Disney sells flashing, multi-color lights that children seem to love, and they’re all over the parks.
Rides with light effects in the Disney World Parks
Again things can change at Disney, even from day to day, so verify before going on any ride or seeing any show. Here is a list of attractions put together from nurse Sue Mickelson (including some updates from me), that have light effects of some type. Many attractions have a single light or two, so it is difficult to list them all. But here’s at least some of what you might want to be aware of. Please be aware that this is not a complete list and that we may be missing some effects. Be sure to ask a cast member about your particular triggers at each attraction and show.
Some Magic Kingdom Rides with light effects:
Enchanted Tiki Room – There are periods of darkness with simulated lightning. The lightning is random and short.
Pirates of the Caribbean – Some lightning flashes in the first dark part of the ride. Some random flickering from simulated flames in the last half.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – There are no light effects in this attraction, but if you are riding on a sunny day, you will go in and out of dark tunnels repeatedly at high speed.
Splash Mountain – On a sunny day, there are several places where you will go from dimly lit indoor areas to bright outdoor areas. The ride moves slowly, so the change is slow. There is a single bright flash when your picture is taken during the big drop.
The Haunted Mansion – Almost at the end of the pre-show, there is a flash of lightning at the top of the ceiling. The boarding area includes flickering wall sconces.
It’s a Small World – The end scene includes numerous ropes of white lights that blink on and off in a regular pattern. I would describe it as a traveling pattern – as one light goes off, the next light in line goes on. So, the light travels down the strand of lights.
Buzz Lightyear – Just before the last room of the ride, there is a long, narrow tunnel room with swirling red lights and flashing white lights. The swirling and flashing are not rhythmic. The last room of the ride includes several very bright random flashes of white light.
Space Mountain – multiple flashing lights.
Some Epcot rides with light effects:
Spaceship Earth – the first part of the ride and the last part of the ride are dark, long and narrow.
The entrance ‘tunnel’ has screens high on the wall, warning that your ‘time capsule’ will turn and descend at some point during the ride. The screens are bright compared to the walls.
The exit tunnel has some lighting effects, but not flashes.
Mission Space – Includes a flash of light when you get your picture taken, and flashing instrument lights to alert ‘astronauts’ to push particular buttons. There are also small amber colored flashing alarm beacons at the end of the ‘runway’ when you are landing on Mars.
Test Track – The walls and ceiling in most of this attraction are black, with colored strips of light. On pictures they look like neon lights, but are probably fiber optic lights. The lights do not move or flicker. There is one section where your car looks like it will run into a truck, which has suddenly turned its lights on. Soon after that, the car travels outside, so if the day is bright, you will go into bright sunlight.
Living with the Land – There’s a simulated thunderstorm in the first few scenes. The first part of the attraction is dim; the second part is in a greenhouse, where the bright sunlight can be a bit of a shock when you first enter. At one point, the boat enters a ‘fish farm’ part of the greenhouse, which has dim red lighting. After traveling thru that part, you will again be in a greenhouse. The ride boat moves slowly though, so it is not difficult to adjust to the different lighting.
Soarin’ – The last scene is a nighttime view of the Eiffel Tower at night, and it’s covered in twinkling lights. As you fly over it, you fly by a bright light that fills the screen for a moment. You then fly over Epcot at night, and you’ll see Tinker Bell who has some sparkling lights around and behind her, as well as some fireworks.
Journey into Your Imagination – There are some flashes of light, with one bright flash near the end where a picture used to be taken.
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros (Mexico Pavilion) – Simulated evening scenes in dim light, with flickering lights. Simulated fireworks sounds and sights (fiberoptic lights on upper wall and ceiling).
American Adventure – The Chief Joseph sequence has a few strokes of lightning. The World War 2 sequence on a ship includes arcs of welding light.
Some Hollywood Studio rides with light effects:
Star Tours – Flashes of light during the attraction (you are in a space ship and end up in a spaceship fight). There are several versions of this ride, so it can be different every time.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Some flashing light, some twinkling lights and some pulsating blue/green laser lights above your head to simulate the top of the water. All are random.
Rock N Roller Coaster – One bright flash of light during picture taking.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – One bright flash of light during picture taking. Elevator door opens suddenly to give a view of outdoors (there can be bright light on a sunny day). Some twinkling lights during the early part of the ride. There may be more as well during this ride.
A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration – Includes some flashing lights/lights to simulate snow that move/beam across the stage and sometimes the audience.
Fantasmic – This includes some bright flashes of white lights that beam across the audience, fireworks, ‘eye lights’ from dragon and snake. Many people are using light up toys which may be set on rapid flashing. Glow with the show ears change color in synch with the show. Most of the color changes are slow transitions.The ear part is translucent white plastic.
Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run – The ride vehicle has many flashing lights. There is a basic frame to the story, but it’s a large format, real time video game. So the experience can change every time. Exactly what happens depends on what the “players” do. There are multiple flashes, especially as your ship hits things or gets hit. There are “jumps to light speed” with light tunnel effects. We had a warning to “get ready to jump to light speed”. There are lights simulating laser guns and lights from explosions. There are a number of other light effects that are hard to describe, but this ride has a lot of light effects.
Star Wars Rise of the Resistance – The ride vehicle has many flashing lights. The simulation has a lot of light effects including ray gun light simulations, explosions, etc. There are also flashing lights through the queue.
Some Animal Kingdom rides with light effects:
Festival of the Lion King – One act includes twirling flaming sticks and there are lights from the ceiling that beam across the audience, especially during the aerial act.
(Author’s note: Here’s a warning from someone with epilepsy who had difficulty with this show: “I have epilepsy (photosensitive, temporal lobe) and wanted to discourage anyone else going to Disney World from attending Festival of The Lion King. Totally got stuck in there having partial seizures, praying I wouldn’t have a grand mal because they couldn’t let me out. (Yes, we told a cast member and the cast member and security stayed with us but was unable to let us out…and it’s not a short attraction ?). I didn’t realize it would be so flashy or I wouldn’t have gone in the first place. Just in case this helps anyone else. ” — Katie Smith
Dinosaur – Dark ride with sudden appearance of dinosaurs in front of you. Random flashes of light. One big flash as a picture is taken.
Expedition Everest – Includes some bright light effects.
Flights of Passage – It starts with a flash and then there’s a number of random flashes. There’s a kind of light tunnel effect. It ends with the reverse of everything.
Also from Sue Mickelson: “My mother has migraines and finds that reflections off water (especially the World Showcase Lagoon) bother her on a very bright day. She also has problems sometimes with the 360 movies in China and Canada because they are all around and she notices the flicker in the movies.”
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