10 Facts You Should Know About Epilepsy

Madrolly/iStock via Getty Images
Madrolly/iStock via Getty Images

While the signs of some chronic illnesses are vague or invisible, epilepsy symptoms can be hard to miss. The neurological disorder is characterized by recurrent epileptic seizures, or periods of excessive or overlapping activities in the brain. It also comes with a stigma: Patients who exhibit epileptic seizures have been accused of being violent, mad, and even possessed. Those misconceptions are sometimes more harmful than the epilepsy symptoms themselves. With proper treatment, people with the condition often lead safe, happy lives. Here are some more facts.

1. Epilepsy has fueled superstitions for centuries.

Before modern medicine, cultures around the world mistook epileptic seizures for spiritual possession. There’s even a passage in the New Testament of the Bible where Jesus performs an exorcism on a boy having an apparent epileptic fit. The ancient Greeks [PDF] believed seizures were a punishment sent from the gods, and therefore considered them sacred. We now know that seizures originate in the brain, but the superstitions that surround them persist.

2. Epileptic seizures are caused by a neurological imbalance.

The brain is controlled by neurons: cells that carry electrical impulses that allow us to process our environment. Some neurons stimulate other brain cells, while others tell them to calm down. This balance is what allows us to function normally. In people with epilepsy, too many stimulating or calming neurons fire at the same time, causing epileptic seizures.

3. There are different types of epileptic seizures.

When most picture someone having a seizure “seizing up,” losing consciousness, and convulsing uncontrollably. These are the characteristics of grand mal or tonic-clonic seizures, but it’s not the only form they take.

Generalized seizures are caused by activity in both hemispheres of the brain, and they include tonic-clonic seizures, as well as absence seizures (brief loss of consciousness), myoclonic seizures (random muscle jerks), and more. Focal seizures occur in only one region of the brain and can be simple—limited to twitching and odd feelings, tastes, or smells—or complex, where sufferers experience a temporary loss of awareness.

4. Not all seizures are signs of epilepsy.

Spontaneous, non-epileptic seizures happen for a number of reasons, ranging in seriousness from brain tumor or stroke to low blood sodium or lack of sleep. A patient is usually diagnosed as epileptic after they’ve experienced two or more seizures, or if they have a positive result on a diagnostic neurological test. The most common test, an electroencephalogram (EEG), monitors electrical activity in the brain.

5. Epilepsy causes vary from person to person.

A person can develop epilepsy for a variety of reasons. In some cases, mutations in the genes related to regulating neurons can make some people more vulnerable to the environmental factors that cause the disorder. Other causes include brain damage, infectious diseases like AIDS, and developmental disorders like autism. But in roughly half of all cases, the condition is cryptogenic, which means doctors can’t pinpoint a specific cause.

6. Outside stimuli can trigger epileptic seizures.

Things that affect brain function, like drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and not getting enough sleep, can make someone more vulnerable to having epileptic fit. Other triggers are much harder to avoid: People with reflex epilepsy get seizures as a reaction to stimuli, such as flashing lights or even music.

7. Auras can signal an impending seizure.

Warning signs known as auras can take the form of a strange smell or taste, a sudden wave of fear or joy, a feeling of déjà vu, or random muscle twitches. Auras are technically focal seizures, which are seizures the sufferer is aware of, and though they often precede bigger seizures that trigger a loss of consciousness, they can also happen on their own.

8. Temporary paralysis sometimes follows an epileptic seizure.

After their seizure has stopped, patients may experience full or partial paralysis, usually on one side of their body. The loss of motor function can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 36 hours, but most of the time it doesn’t exceed 15 hours. This phenomenon is named Todd’s paralysis after Victorian physician Robert Bentley Todd, who first described it.

9. Few epileptic seizures are fatal.

The biggest threat during an epileptic fit is injury from falling down and convulsing in an unconscious state, but the majority of seizures don’t cause serious harm on their own. The exception is tonic-clonic status epilepticus, which is the name for a seizure that lasts five minutes or longer. These are considered emergency seizures and can result in brain damage or death [PDF].

10. Epilepsy can be treated with vagus nerve stimulation.

Epilepsy is highly treatable with a number of methods, from drugs to brain implants. Many patients take anti-seizure medications that balance neural signals and prevent seizures from happening. Surgery to remove the area of the brain where seizures typically begin is another form of treatment. Other options include a high-fat, low-carb diet, which can stabilize neuron function, and vagus nerve stimulation, which uses implants to send electric pulses up the vagus nerve in the neck to regulate brain activity.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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ScareHouse: How a Famously In-Your-Face Haunted House Is Using the Pandemic to Its Advantage

ScareHouse is serving up a ton of (socially-distanced) terrors in Tarentum, Pennsylvania.
ScareHouse is serving up a ton of (socially-distanced) terrors in Tarentum, Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy Nick Keppler

During its first 20 years, every face paint-caked zombie or masked ghoul working at Pittsburgh's ScareHouse was taught one maxim: Get into people’s personal space.

"We told them, 'Don’t touch anyone, but get as close as you can,'" Scott Simmons, founder and creative director of the longtime haunted attraction, tells Mental Floss.

Things are different this year. Like so much else, that rule has been canceled due to coronavirus. Halloween is just the latest annual tradition to require a readjustment because of the current pandemic. Health officials are discouraging costume parties and people are buying candy chutes for trick-or-treaters. Haunts—the industry term for the mazes of frightful sights and sounds that crop up every October—have faced a choice familiar to event organizers: skip a season or adjust.

To Scare or Not to Scare

ScareHouse

After weighing the options, ScareHouse (a particularly high-production venture that has gotten nods from the likes of Oscar-winning horror master Guillermo del Toro) decided to adjust—and even took this unexpected change of plans as a unique opportunity to create a haunt built specifically with COVID-19 precautions in mind. Due to limited parking, Simmons abandoned the former Elks Lodge that ScareHouse has called home since 2007. In March, he signed a lease for a new location, a former H&M store in a half-empty shopping mall in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, located about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Simmons and his collaborators were in the midst of planning their labyrinth of terror when they saw Plexiglas go up in grocery stores and social distancing become the norm. With a wide open space as a blank canvas, they realized they could incorporate elements of COVID-19 restrictions into ScareHouse's design.

Though the actors can no longer invade a visitor's personal space—they have to stay six feet away and wear a face mask at all times (as do customers)—there are plenty of other tools in the haunt master's toolbox.

This year's iteration of ScareHouse relies on techniques that are either very advanced or completely basic. "It’s light sensors and animatronics or it’s characters pounding on glass and people moving around wearing something glow-in-the-dark and some stuff I haven’t seen since I was 15," Simmons says.

Back to Basics

Photo courtesy Nick Keppler

ScareHouse's first segment is a demon-possessed family home. Actors play supernatural specters, the now-crazed residents, or urban explorers and nuns who became trapped after they entered the home to either document or exorcise it. Built into each room is a reason for the actor to be masked and distant.

In a children’s bedroom, an actor in a teddy bear outfit leaps up from a stack of stuffed animals, which creates a barrier from each passing group. A demented housewife character appears in a kitchen covered in (plastic) guts and spoiled food. She stays in a corner behind an open refrigerator door and a manic smile is painted onto her facemask. When passing through the darkened bathroom stage, patrons see a mirror that’s actually a replication of the bathroom stage behind Plexiglas. An actor can then startle them and pound against it.

In a bedroom, a woman writhes in a bed (in tribute to The Exorcist); a pair of fake legs gives the appearance that her body has been contorted. The bed is covered in plastic resembling bed curtains. ScareHouse has provided the actor with recorded screams and growls she can summon with a button, so she doesn’t have to release her own spit into the air.

This year, the staff has been reduced from the 200 usually employed seasonally to just 90 people. Simmons said he wanted fewer actors trading costumes and spending time in make-up chairs.

Technology and props have taken over some of the work of frightening teenagers and other scare-seekers.

Eerie Adaptions

Photo courtesy of ScareHouse

As patrons enter the attraction, they are given flashlights and come into a darkened parlor, decked out in antique furniture. The flashlights are another adaptation; they give a way to explore the room without touching anything. And they interact with photon sensors to create some eerie effects.

In the parlor, a motion detector causes a piano top to rattle but once a patron points their flashlight at it, a photon sensor causes it to stop. The same trick works on a Ouija board sitting on a table. A motion detection signal causes the planchette to vibrate. A photon detector causes it to stop at the touch of a beam of light. This creates the impression that a poltergeist is responding to patrons’ actions.

The ScareHouse has also made use of animatronics and puppets. A werewolf and a set of dinosaur jaws pop out of darkened spaces. An animatronic woman removes her face to reveal a mesh of blood at the signal of a motion detector.

Another segment of ScareHouse is a “fever dream” employing a freakish mesh of body parts twisted onto the walls and glass tank of smoke and light, in which an actor plays some kind of creature (exactly what it is is left up to the patron's imagination). “We don’t even need a costume,” operations manager Maryane Kimbler tells Mental Floss. “You can’t see them. They create these fantastic motions and shapes.”

Haunted Ambitions

Photo courtesy Nick Keppler

Perhaps the most ambitious scene is the “courtyard” of the possessed house. Patrons walk through a backyard scattered with skeletal bits and see a character called the Specter of the Forest, dressed in branches and grass. He rings a bell and tells them to come forward. “But he’s a total distraction,” Kimbler admits.

As they walk toward him, a terrifying animatronic called the “nun lunger” pops out of doorway. She’s just a doll in a nun’s habit and gown with a face that looks like it was borrowed from Marilyn Manson circa 1993, but she's moving on a track and rushes 12 feet across the room under flashing strobe lights.

Once again, concocted terror belies actual safety considerations. In years past, the nun may have been played by an actor, commissioned to come close and scream and snarl. None of that can be done with ScareHouse's careful social distancing measures in place. Instead, the actor—that Specter of the Forrest—is given a secondary role in the thrill. The idea is that, startled by the sudden sprint of this decay-faced nun, they run past him, as he stays behind a fence-like barrier.

In 2020, it’s the safest way to be terrified.