In today’s post I’m departing from my usual focus on video games as a seizure trigger. With National Epilepsy Awareness Month coming to a close, it’s seizures in the context of the real-world game of football that recently caught my attention.
No one has done more this month than University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill and his athletic director Norwood Teague to educate the public about seizure disorders.
The coach had a seizure last weekend during a game against Michigan State. It was his second game-time seizure in as many months, and his third in two seasons at Minnesota. He has needed to leave the game when they happen, and in the first two instances he was admitted to a hospital. On Saturday he rested and went home to recuperate. The seizures, which Kill has experienced for years, have become more frequent, and the stresses during a game are probably adding to his seizure vulnerability. He was back at work on Monday.
The Epilepsy Foundation should publicly recognize Kill and Teague with some kind of award for doing the right thing: doing what’s necessary to carry on, taking preventive measures, and not making too big a deal about it. The players have been publicly very supportive as well.
Teague said at a post-game news conference: “I know this will bring up questions about him and moving forward, but we have 100 percent confidence in Jerry…He’s as healthy as a horse, as they say. It’s just an epileptic situation, or a seizure situation, that he deals with. He has to continue to monitor all the simple things in life, like we all do — you watch your diet, watch your weight, watch your stress, watch your rest. He just has to watch those things…You don’t want to downplay it, but you get to the point where you realize it’s just something he has to deal with at times. You don’t want to say it’s not a big deal, but in a way, it’s easy to deal with in a lot of ways.”
Yesterday Teague added that he will be looking to offload some of his coach’s responsibilities until Kill’s medical condition stabilizes. He stated this in a very positive way. “Is there doubt now about him moving forward? Absolutely not…We have to do a better job here of managing around him…I have to do a better job of helping him. I can take some things off his plate that other coaches can do.”
Kill’s condition and the way he and his management have handled it provide valuable lessons about seizure disorders. For starters, most people who have seizures:
- Are regular folks, able to live pretty normal lives during seizure-free stretches
- Aren’t unusual. About one percent of the population has epilepsy
- Aren’t looking for special treatment but may benefit from reducing stress during periods of increased seizure activity
- Can’t predict the next seizure, although certain situations–both internal and external–are triggers. (Some people experience auras beforehand.)
- Do not experience a medical emergency while seizing
- Require rest and can’t function properly for at least several hours after an episode
There’s no way to tie my thoughts on this directly back to video games and seizures. It just needed to be said.
Here’s a truly novel alternative to seizure-free video games. Freescale Semiconductor has developed a prototype for a device called the Sports Game Station, “combining exercise, entertainment and seizure detection.” It’s an exercise bike, wireless game controller, and seizure monitor all in one!
The prototype was developed to encourage developers of scientific and medical equipment to use the company’s electronics components for building new types of products. The proposed Sports Game Station, which would let users get exercise while they control a video game with their cycling, also detects and alerts others to any photosensitive seizures that occur during the game.
According to the product description,”The concept is designed to help make video game playing healthier and safer.” I am not making this up. To check out the particulars, you can click here and scroll down to page 21 of Freescale’s health and safety applications product summaries.
Here is as much as I can grasp (with no engineering in my background). A player gets exercise on the stationary bike while wirelessly playing/controlling input to the video game via an accelerometer. In addition, another of the same type of sensor that provides input to the game could be attached to the player’s body and programmed to pick up abnormal body movements that could indicate a seizure. The explanation gets confusing here:
“To detect evidence of conditions such as a seizure, a reliable algorithm is necessary. This special algorithm must be designed using enough samples of seizure waveforms (caused by jerking body movements) gathered by the accelerometer to ensure exceptional accuracy.” Problem here is that the term seizure waveforms generally refers to EEG readings, which would not in fact be caused by jerking body movements. Not to mention the fact that many seizures don’t present with abnormal movements, which the product description acknowledges in the paragraph immediately prior.
Anyway, if a seizure is detected (the algorithms for seizure detection have not been developed), a seizure alert is wirelessly transmitted to parents’ cell phones or to a buzzer alarm in the game console!
As far as I can tell, no developer has yet utilized the Freescale components to build a product similar to the Sports Game Station prototype. I’m leaving this post in the “uncategorized” category–none of the categories I have used or expect to ever use come close to being useful.
1) “My neurologist told me that after I turned thirteen, I would be able to play video games again if I wanted to. The reason that I had the seizure was because from a certain age until the age of thirteen, your brain waves are more vulnerable, so the flashing light patterns can cause you to have a seizure.”
Young people between ages 7 – 19 are the age group most likely to experience photosensitive seizures. But the condition is outgrown in only about 25 percent of cases, and that usually doesn’t happen until after age 20. Researchers have not found a way to predict which cases will be among the small number that remit.
2) “There is no evidence that viewing or playing video games on a large screen induces seizures in normal healthy people. If this was the case then any large screen TV watching or movie theatre going would be a risky activity.”
There is ample evidence that viewing or playing video games on a large screen can induce seizures in “normal healthy” people if they have a genetic trait that makes them vulnerable to the effects of flashing light. The larger the screen, or the closer one is to the screen, the greater the impact of the light on the brain. This is why doctors advise sitting at a distance from the screen as one way to avoid visually induced seizures from video games. Flicker in a small portion of an individual’s field of vision is much less likely to provoke a seizure. Sitting up close to a video screen you’re likely to fill a greater portion of your visual field than when you’re sitting even towards the front in a movie theater. In addition, the brightness of a video screen and the flashes it displays is generally more intense than what is projected on a movie screen. Movies with lots of flashes of light and quick cuts (think action films, anime) can trigger seizures, too, but they are less likely to do so.
3) “If you have epilepsy already, actually playing games with flashing lights will trigger them right away. You cannot *make* yourself epileptic….The fear with video games is that people who would have never found their trigger would start to. But it doesn’t work on a delay action like that.”
Approximately three percent of people with epilepsy can experience seizures when exposed to flashing lights. This is also true for an unknown number of people who do not have classic epilepsy. Sensitivity to flicker—photosensitivity—most often emerges between the ages of 7-19. However, the trait can remain dormant until a particular combination of environmental factors result in a seizure. If you have the photosensitivity trait, you may not know it and may never experience a seizure until you’re exposed to sequences with qualities that cause you to have a seizure.
Video games are only one of many possible causes of visually induced seizures. Television programs and commercials, DVDs, music videos, Web applications and ads, uploaded videos, dance floor lighting, electronic signs, lights on emergency vehicles, fireworks, and fluorescent lights can cause seizures, too. Triggers are found in nature as well, such as light streaming through a row of trees and sunlight sparkling on a body of water. (Not much we can do about those.)
I’m focusing my attention—and yours, I hope—on video games for several reasons. Just to be clear, there is no hidden agenda here about First Amendment rights or cultural values.
- Usage – On any given day 60 percent of young people 8-18 in the US play video games for an average of two hours.
- Proximity – Typically games are played at close range, meaning that a large portion of a person’s viewing field is taken over by the screen. When the screen images take up a large percentage of the total visual field, they have stronger impact on the brain.
- Research – Abundant research shows that video games can cause seizures. Game manufacturers acknowledge this in their product literature.
- Safety – Video games are often played alone, without other people nearby who might be able to spot a seizure and help.
- Experience – Seeing the effect of video game seizures on my daughter.
Having said this, from time to time I do want to discuss issues and events related to visually induced seizures that are not specific to the video game industry.