Local Effort Increases Accessibility for those with Epilepsy

Living with epilepsy can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including their sleep. Often times, people with epilepsy require constant 24-hour supervision to prevent life threatening and unprovoked seizures. Heritage Farm (the Farm) is working to alleviate these stressors for their residents in a unique way.

Heritage Farm is one of only two agencies in Madison County that provide respite services for developmentally disabled persons. Founded in 1985, the Farm offers individualized programming in line with their belief that farming and rural life foster self-worth, independence and a sense of responsibility toward family, friends and community.

Heritage Farm is dedicated to growing to better serve the community when there is a need.

Executive Director of Heritage Farm, Mark Piersall, explained, “We used to have to turn individuals away due to their high level of seizure activity but with time we’ve become better prepared to work with this growing population. More and more, we see seizures and seizure-like activities becoming a norm in our community, and we needed to develop to meet that need.”

Although the Farm had always provided daytime programming to its clients, its compliance officer, Richard Mitchell, identified something was missing—nighttime attention. While a person prone to seizures is sleeping, any sort of sensory input can spark a seizure. This raises a serious problem when checking in on guests that stay overnight.

Mitchell explained that he asked himself the question, “how can we monitor and protect the participants of our programs that have seizures during the night, without inciting them?” After hours of research, Mitchell found a motion device that can be installed under the guests’ mattresses that detects any motion and sounds an alarm to staff when a person starts having a seizure.

Through the support of a Community Foundation grant, the Farm was able to purchase the new sensors and, in turn, introduce safer nighttime respite services for its clients. The sensors use a portable remote that is placed under the mattress. Before the introduction of the new technology, the Farm’s staff had to make routine nightly checks; but there was always the chance of a seizure between checks. The sensors offer continuous surveillance.

Advocacy around identifying warning signs and taking these preventative measures is an important piece of the Farm’s ultimate goal. Throughout the year, a group of volunteers raise money through various fundraising activities. The group travels to Albany once a year to meet with other advocacy groups from all over the state. The money from each group is pooled and donated to a number of nonprofits to utilize for advocacy services developmentally disabled persons.

“I believe advocacy around the warning signs and preventative measures that can be taken for persons with seizure disorders is such an important piece to our work,” said Mitchell. “Our services can’t have an impact if people don’t know about them.”

It has always been Heritage Farm’s mission and deep set passion to provide services to as many people with disabilities as possible. Through the introduction of its new services and continuous advocacy, the Farm continues to grow and remains a beacon of hope for the residents of Madison County.

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