Sara palsy in adults

3 TO 4 TIMES
HIGHER

IN PEOPLE WITH
DISABILITIES

FUNCTIONAL ISSUES AT WORK

The day-to-day challenges of the workplace are likely to increase as an employed individual with CP reaches middle age. Some individuals will be able to continue working with accommodations such as an adjusted work schedule, assistive equipment, or frequent rest periods.

DEPRESSION

Mental health issues can also be of concern as someone with cerebral palsy grows older. The rate of depression is three to four times higher in people with disabilities such as CP. It appears to be related not so much to the severity of their disabilities, but to how well they cope with them. The amount of emotional support someone has, how successful they are at coping with disappointment/stress, and whether or not they have an optimistic outlook about the future all have a significant impact on mental health.

POST-IMPAIRMENT SYNDROME

This syndrome is marked by a combination of pain, fatigue, and weakness due to muscle abnormalities, bone deformities, over-use syndrome, sometimes also called repetitive motion injuries, and arthritis. Individuals with CP may use up to three to five times the amount of energy that able-bodied people use when they walk and move about.

OSTEOARTHRITIS & DEGENERATIVE ARTHRITIS

Musculoskeletal abnormalities that may not produce discomfort during childhood can cause pain in adulthood. For example, the abnormal relationships between joint surfaces and excessive joint compression can lead to the early development of painful osteoarthritis and degenerative arthritis. Individuals with CP also may have limited strength and restricted patterns of movement, which puts them at risk for overuse syndromes and nerve entrapments.

PAIN

Individuals with CP may have pain that can be acute or chronic, and is experienced most commonly in the hips, knees, ankles, and the upper and lower back. Individuals with spastic CP may have an increased number of painful sites and worse pain than those with other types of cerebral palsy. Treatments include spasticity management aimed at correcting skeletal and muscle abnormalities.

OTHER MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Adults have higher than normal rates of other medical conditions secondary to their cerebral palsy, such as hypertension, incontinence, bladder dysfunction, and swallowing difficulties. Scoliosis is likely to progress after puberty, when bones have matured into their final shape and size.

Adult Cerebral Palsy Care

The clinic’s primary objective is to address each patient’s specific symptoms, which often include more than one of the following:

Physical difficulties impacting:

  • Control of movement
  • Muscle tone/spasticity
  • Weakness
  • Reflexes
  • Balance
  • Low bone density
  • Pain and fatigue
  • Constipation

Medical and cognitive difficulties, including:

  • Swallowing disorders
  • Seizures
  • Constipation
  • Bladder problems
  • Saliva control issues
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Mental Health issues

As you age, you may also lose mobility at an increasing rate, and are more likely to experience fatigue and muscle and joint pain. These symptoms increase the likelihood of becoming physically inactive or immobile.

During clinic visits, you and your clinician should discuss lifestyle modifications to prevent these conditions or reduce their impact, including:

  • Increasing physical activity and decreasing sedentary behavior to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk
  • Adopting strength-building and balance exercises to improve muscle health and function, as well as to reduce the risk of falls and fractures
  • Making smarter nutritional choices to help manage body weight and blood sugar
  • Addressing sleep disorders such as insomnia and chronic obstructive sleep apnea
  • Tracking progress and making further lifestyle adjustments between clinic visits

Adult Cerebral Palsy Research Initiatives

Above and beyond managing the symptoms of cerebral palsy, The Adult Cerebral Palsy Clinic and Research Program also focuses on helping patients reduce the impact of many common, chronic, lifestyle-related conditions seen in adults.

Recent University of Michigan research shows that adults with cerebral palsy are between two and five times more likely to have one or more of these conditions than are adults without cerebral palsy:

  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Emphysema
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis

Read more about the research here.

Every day, U-M clinicians and researchers strive to find new therapies and techniques to improve quality of life for individuals living with cerebral palsy.

  • Quality of Life – Clinicians in Michigan Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation are leading studies about quality of life and health outcomes in teens and adults with cerebral palsy.
  • Upper Limb Movement and Posture – Researchers in the U-M School of Kinesiology, in collaboration with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, are participating in innovative research exploring the quality of upper limb movements relative to posture, balance and dual task condition in adults with cerebral palsy.
  • Metabolics – Michigan Medicine physicians and researchers are investigating how metabolics (oxygen consumption, glucose use) work in people with cerebral palsy.
  • Exercise – researchers are investigating the effects of exercise and fitness on people with cerebral palsy.
  • Nutrition – Michigan Medicine investigators are also at the forefront of exploring the role diet and nutrition play in helping adults with cerebral palsy improve overall health and manage symptoms.
  • Sleep – the involuntary muscle movements (dyskinesia) commonly experienced by people with cerebral palsy frequently disrupt healthy sleep, and sleep disturbances in turn can make dyskinesia worse. Michigan Medicine researchers in neurology, sleep medicine and other specialties are investigating how to break this vicious cycle to improve both sleep quality and quality of life for people with cerebral palsy.

University of Michigan physicians and staff also routinely author publications and present at national and international conferences on topics of interest to the cerebral palsy community.

For more information about ongoing clinical trials, please visit: https://umclinicalstudies.org/

Resources

  • Information about the transition from childhood to adulthood for people with cerebral palsy.
  • Michigan Medicine-sponsored exercise guidelines for patients with cerebral palsy
  • The Physical Fitness and Exercise for Adults with Cerebral Palsy fact sheet from the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine

Make an Appointment and Track Progress

Appointments may be scheduled by calling 734-936-7175, or visit our our Make an Appointment with Rehabilitation Medicine page.

Follow-up appointments may also be made at the clinic when checking out after an appointment.

(Please note that due to a high patient volume, appointments are scheduled several weeks or months in advance.)

MyUofMHealth.org, a secure online patient portal system, is available for patients to view test results, verify or change appointments, send and receive message from schedulers and health care providers and more. Learn more about MyUofMHealth.org here.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.

Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:

  • If your child is not yet 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system.
    You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Centerexternal icon.
  • If your child is 3 years of age or older, contact your local public school system.
    Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.
    If you’re not sure who to contact, you can call the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Centerexternal icon.

Learn more about early intervention

American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for your baby and young child: Birth to age five. 5th ed. Shelov SP, editor. Elk Grove Village (IL): Bantam Books; 2009.

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children / Cerebral Palsy
http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/developmental-disabilities/pages/Cerebral-Palsy.aspxexternal icon

American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
https://aaidd.org/homeexternal icon

Identifying Infants and Young Children With Developmental Disorders in the Medical Home: An Algorithm for Developmental Surveillance and Screening. Council on Children With Disabilities, Section on Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Bright Futures Steering Committee, Medical Home Initiatives for Children With Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. Pediatrics, July 2006.
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/1/405.full.pdf pdf iconexternal icon

March of Dimes. Cerebral Palsy.
http://www.marchofdimes.org/baby/cerebral-palsy.aspxexternal icon

My Child Without Limits
http://www.mychildwithoutlimits.org/?page=homeexternal icon

UCP
http://www.ucp.orgexternal icon

Cerebral Palsy

When diagnosing cerebral palsy, doctors look for spastic movements, abnormal muscle movements, delayed development, and poor coordination.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?

There is no foolproof way to prevent CP, but there are steps you can take to lower the risk:

  • Before pregnancy, eat well and have any pre-existing medical problems under control.
  • While pregnant, continue with these healthy habits and take recommended pre-natal vitamins.
  • See your obstetrician for regular checkups throughout pregnancy.
  • Get screened for potential complications.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predict when an infant will suffer brain damage due to negligence. The best you can do is choose your doctors carefully and advocate for your own healthcare and that of your child.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Cured?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but it will also not get worse with time. This is not a progressive disease, and early therapies and treatments can reduce symptoms and disabilities while also improving mobility.

How Is Cerebral Palsy Treated?

A variety of treatment options can improve symptoms and quality of life for babies and children. Many interventions can be started immediately after a diagnosis is given.

Medications

Various medications help control spastic movements, seizures, relieve pain, and manage other symptoms and related conditions:

  • Baclofen or other muscle relaxants
  • Diazepam
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Anticholinergics
  • Antacids
  • Stool softeners/laxatives
  • Sleep aids

Surgery

Surgery is a critical part of treatment for many children with CP. Surgical procedures may improve mobility or manage pain. Common procedures include tendon or muscle release, the repair of hip dislocations, and scoliosis surgery.

Therapies

Several different types of therapies are used for children and babies with cerebral palsy. They can improve physical, mental, social, and learning deficits. If started early, therapies for cerebral palsy can reduce impairment and lessen the risk of developing other associated conditions.

Common types of therapy used to help children with cerebral palsy are:

  • Physical
  • Occupational
  • Feeding
  • Aqua
  • Horse and animal
  • Music
  • Play
  • Behavioral
  • Speech/Language
  • Bowel program

What is the Life Expectancy for Cerebral Palsy?

Many children diagnosed with cerebral palsy have the same life expectancy as any other. This wasn’t always true, but earlier diagnosis and better therapies have improved many health conditions for these children.

While CP does not usually shorten life expectancy, it does require early intervention and good medical care for the best outcomes. This is especially true for those with severe disabilities.

Some of the conditions associated with cerebral palsy can be life-threatening if not treated. These include breathing and swallowing difficulties (which can cause pneumonia or malnutrition), seizures, chronic nutritional deficiencies, or life-threatening pressure infections.

Will Cerebral Palsy Cause Other Health Problems?

Cerebral palsy does not necessarily cause other conditions, but a number of health issues often co-occur with it. Many kids with CP have at least one co-existing condition:

  • Hearing deficits
  • Vision impairment
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive disability
  • ADHD
  • Behavioral, emotional issues
  • Feeding problems and nutritional deficiencies
  • Gastric reflux
  • Constipation
  • Scoliosis
  • Joint problems
  • Sleep disorders

What is the Prognosis for Cerebral Palsy?

The prognosis for cerebral palsy depends on individual factors, but except in severe cases it is possible for most children to grow up to live a normal life. Many children with cerebral palsy have average or above average intelligence and are mobile with or without assistance.

Most children with CP go to school with their peers. They may need special education accommodations, such as assistance with communication, hearing or vision aids, and speech and language therapy.

Most children with CP grow up to function as independent adults. Those with more severe disabilities may need lifelong care and supervision.

What If I Can’t Afford My Child’s Care?

The care required for a child with special needs can be costly. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the average cost is $921,000. This doesn’t include out-of-pocket expenses or lost wages. If you find yourself struggling, there are several options to try:

  • Your child may qualify for cash assistance from the government. This falls under section 111.000 of the Social Security disability insurance program.
  • Those approved for cash assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA) usually also qualify for full medical insurance at little to no charge.
  • You may also qualify for free or reduced child care under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or educational assistance under The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004.
  • If your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence, you have the option to file for compensation from the responsible party through legal action.

How Do I Know if My Child’s Cerebral Palsy Was Caused by Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence occurs when a doctor or another healthcare professional causes preventable harm to a patient by failing to provide an accepted standard of care. Incidents in which negligence may have caused CP include but are not limited to:

  • A doctor failing to diagnose a maternal condition that led to brain injuries.
  • A doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional failing to monitor and treat maternal or fetal distress.
  • Improper use of tools to assist in the birthing process.
  • The doctor failing to schedule emergency C-section when indicated by fetal distress.
  • A doctor failing to detect and treat infant hypoxia, jaundice or infection, leading to brain damage.

Malpractice cases are complicated. There has to be enough evidence just to start a case. Specific guidelines set by state laws have to be met first. Only a qualified lawyer or law firm with malpractice experience can tell you if you have a case.

What is the United Cerebral Palsy?

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) is a non-profit organization that helps people with cerebral palsy. Assistance from UCP comes from over 80 national affiliates and includes help with transportation, housing, recreational activities, traveling, health awareness, assistive technologies, advocacy in education, and more.

According to the official UCP site, “UCP educates, advocates and provides support services to ensure a life without limits for people with a spectrum of disabilities. UCP works to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network that has helped millions.”

Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Gina Jansheski, M.D.

Gina Jansheski, M.D. is a Board Certified Pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She has been a practicing pediatrician for over 20 years, working primarily with hospitalized patients and children with special needs.

See Full Bio

Where Can Caregivers Get Help?

Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can feel overwhelming at times. Not only do kids with CP need a lot of attention at home, they also need to go to many medical appointments and therapies. Don’t be afraid to say yes when someone asks, “Can I help?” Your family and friends really do want to be there for you.

To feel less alone and to connect with others who are facing the same challenges, find a local or online support group. You also can get information and support from CP organizations, such as:

  • Cerebral Palsy Foundation
  • United Cerebral Palsy

Staying strong and healthy is not only good for you, but also for your child and your whole family.

Looking Ahead

Living with cerebral palsy is different for every child. To help your child move and learn as much as possible, work closely with your care team to develop a treatment plan. Then, as your child grows and his or her needs change, adjust the plan as necessary.

These guides can help as you plan for each stage of childhood and early adulthood:

  • Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Preschoolers (Birth to Age 5)
  • Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids (Ages 6 to 12)
  • Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults (Ages 13 to 21)

Reviewed by: M. Wade Shrader, MD and Margaret Salzbrenner, APRN Date reviewed: September 2018

Information about cerebral palsy usually focuses on children, and for good reason — cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that impair the brain and nervous system and usually surface within a child’s first two years. But cerebral palsy isn’t just a children’s condition. There are also many adults living with cerebral palsy.

The same medical advances that have increased the life expectancy of the general population have done the same thing for cerebral palsy life span.

Cerebral palsy in adults is becoming more common. Most people with cerebral palsy now lead long lives. However, it is only within the last 15 years that people with cerebral palsy have started to live long enough to be concerned about the effects of aging on top of a lifetime of living with disability.

Does cerebral palsy get worse with age?

With aging comes special challenges for those with cerebral palsy. Though cerebral palsy is a non-degenerative condition, meaning that it doesn’t get worse with aging, a lifetime of fighting physical impairment can mean that people with cerebral palsy often start feeling the effects of age much earlier. Cerebral palsy progression in adults is usually due to the aging process being sped up.

What are the cerebral palsy symptoms in adults?

Cerebral palsy problems in adults that people experience as they get older include:

  • Increased pain. Pain is the most common problem for older adults with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy pain in adults includes locations at the hip, knee, back and neck. People with cerebral palsy often have early-onset arthritis, as well.
  • Difficulty walking. 25% of people with cerebral palsy who walk as children lose that ability as they get older, either because of pain, or because using a wheelchair or scooter becomes easier.
  • Falls. Falls are a concern among all older people. Because people living with cerebral palsy have decreased mobility, they are at risk of falling more often, increasing the chance of serious injury.
  • Dental health problems. Many people with cerebral palsy experience issues with dental health as they get older. It may be hard to find dentists who are able or willing to work with individuals who cannot remain immobile during routine exams or for therapeutic work.
  • Long-term effects from medications. Taking many medications for many years can cause a variety of long-term problems.
  • Trouble eating and swallowing. Impaired motor function means that people with cerebral palsy can have trouble eating and swallowing food, and may have increased trouble as they get older.
  • Other health problems. Studies show that 90 percent of adults with cerebral palsy do not get regular preventive medical checkups such as mammograms, Pap smears and prostate exams. This can expose older individuals to the risk of undiagnosed conditions such as cancer.

What do we know about aging with cerebral palsy?

Scientific study of cerebral palsy and aging is still in its early days. Doctors know that people with cerebral palsy often experience the above cerebral palsy symptoms as they age, but they do not yet have a good understanding as to why.

There have not yet been the large-scale studies that follow children with cerebral palsy through adulthood necessary to discover how the aging process affects people with mild cerebral palsy. Researchers who study cerebral palsy have recently begun to raise awareness about the need for these kinds of studies.

What is cerebral palsy and where can I learn more?

We would love to hear from readers who have cared for someone with cerebral palsy. What were the challenges you faced? What advice can you share? Please share your cerebral palsy stories in the comments section below.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of disabilities that affect a child’s ability to move as a result of birth injury to the brain. CP is a permanent but non-progressive condition that doesn’t get worse as a child grows into adulthood. Except in cases where a babies born with serious health problems, CP is not a life-threatening disability and most infants diagnosed with it live normal life spans.

How Does Cerebral Palsy Affect Children’s Health?

CP is a physical condition that affects the motor control region of the brain and the muscular system. It affects a child’s posture and ability to move and is caused by a one-time brain injury. Because CP’s severity depends greatly on the part of the brain that is injured and how much damage is present, it affects children in different ways. CP impacts a child’s balance, muscle tone and control, reflexes, coordination, and voluntary and involuntary movements.

As a result, the effects of CP on children’s health varies from one child to another. For instance, one child may experience weakness in one hand or arm and is unable to do manual tasks such as buttoning a shirt or drawing a picture. Meanwhile, another child may lack the ability to stand, walk, or talk without assistance and require constant attention from parents, teachers, and other caregivers.

CP affects the motor center of a child’s brain. As a result, infants with the condition may suffer unpredictable or uncontrolled movements. Children with cerebral palsy may have stiff, tight, or weak muscles. Even mild variations of CP can cause involuntary tremors or shaky movements. Children who have more severe manifestations of the condition often have trouble with head and neck control, eating, swallowing, and bladder and bowel control.

Though CP does not cause other disabilities independently, it is often accompanied by associated conditions that have adverse effects on a child’s life expectancy. These associated conditions are usually not connected with the brain injury that causes CP. These conditions include:

  • Intellectual impairment
  • Vision impairment
  • Eating difficulties
  • Inability to walk
  • Epilepsy

What is the Life Expectancy of a Child with CP?

Although there have been no general studies of life expectancy in people with cerebral palsy, most children affected by CP live between 30 and 70 years, depending on the severity of the condition. In general, a child with a mild case of CP usually lives longer than a child with mobility and intellectual limitations. Children who respond well to physical and occupational therapy, have no intellectual development problems, and can function with little or no assistance lead longer lives than those with severe disabilities caused by CP. However, most children with even the mildest form of CP tend to have slightly shorter life spans than the general population.

In addition, according to a study published in Pediatrics & Therapeutics, life expectancy is also determined by the quality of treatment that a child with CP receives. Generally, children with low birth weight severe symptoms, intellectual impairments, and limited mobility fare less well than children who can walk and function more or less independently. This is especially true in cases when a family’s financial situation limits the amount of medical and therapeutic care that a child with severe CP requires.

Other factors that determine life expectancy are respiratory disorders and related issues. Babies with severe CP often have difficulty breathing on their own. As a result, respiratory problems are a significant cause of mortality among infants with CP.

How to Improve Life Expectancy

Although there is no known cure for cerebral palsy, proactive care by parents, physicians, and other caregivers can improve a child’s life expectancy. As mentioned earlier, children with mild CP who receive physical and occupational therapy promptly and regularly can improve their ability to move and eat on their own. Children with no or minimal intellectual limitations are also able receive the education they need to function as productive and happy adults.

Keep in mind that children with more severe CP-related conditions, such as lack of mobility or severe cognitive disabilities, have significantly reduced lifespans due to the serious complications the disability causes. Children and young adults who are fed by tubes or can’t raise their heads without assistance also have shorter life expectancy than the general population.

About Life Span

Life span is among a parent’s immediate concerns for a child. Although life expectancy hinges on many factors, most individuals with Cerebral Palsy enjoy a healthy lifespan as long as life-threatening associative conditions are managed, and healthful medical care and lifestyle supports are implemented. In general, there are eight factors that have been identified to affect life span for individuals with Cerebral Palsy.

Eight Factors Affecting Life Span

Predicting how life span is altered by a medical condition is nearly impossible, although it is of great concern to parents. Doctors often aren’t able to immediately diagnose Cerebral Palsy in newborns, and even when they can, it typically takes months to years to accurately assess the level and extent of impairment a child will experience.

For an accurate estimation, primary care physicians wait for the brain to fully develop, observe the child over time and gauge key developmental milestones.

Therapy, treatment, and technology continue to advance in ways that minimize effects of impairment, while worldwide and national policy initiatives focus on ensuring barrier-free, accessible environments in home, school, transportation, recreation, government, and public space.

Although it may be difficult to determine a prognosis for a child with Cerebral Palsy, setting goals in cooperation with the child’s doctors and learning to properly manage impairment, associated conditions, and co-mitigating factors can improve outcomes.

Still, none of these factors indicate how a person’s life span will be affected. The majority of individuals with Cerebral Palsy live until late adulthood. However, while some individuals with severe impairments may live a long time, the more severe the impairment and the greater number of health conditions, the higher the likelihood of a shorter life span.

Properly managing these conditions will help minimize risk and optimize life expectancy. In particular, eight factors are identified as areas of concern which have the capacity to shorten life span in cases of Cerebral Palsy. They are:

  • Number of impairments and key disabilities
  • Severity level
  • Mobility restrictions
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Visual acuity
  • Respiratory functioning

These are detailed below.

Additional information can be found at Life Expectancy of Cerebral Palsy.

Number of impairments and key disabilities

An increase in the number of impairments has an adverse effect on life expectancy calculations for individuals living with Cerebral Palsy. To clarify, the higher the number of impairments, the greater likelihood an individual’s life expectancy will be impacted. However, severity and type of impairment also play a significant role. A child with multiple impairments has multiple conditions for caretakers to properly manage.

Life span can be affected as a direct result of Cerebral Palsy, or by a function of the individual’s associated conditions – such as seizures and intellectual disabilities.

Severity level

The degree that impairment influences a person’s life is a significant component in life expectancy calculations. Severe impairment will diminish the life expectancy of a child more significantly than moderate or mild impairment. Higher levels of impairment can indicate a more serious underlying injury or condition – more significant brain damage, for instance.

Severe cases of Cerebral Palsy can lead to early death in newborns, babies, infants, and toddlers. The more severe a condition, the more prone the child is to premature death. Of special concern for risk of premature death are children who experience severe spasticity, and children with quadriplegia or quadriparesis. Those born with jaundice are also at risk. Many cases of infant mortality are related to premature birth and very low birth weight. Studies are being performed to ascertain whether the brain damage leads to premature birth and low birth weight, or whether the reverse leads to the brain damage. In these situations, though, the injury to the brain or other organs may be too great to sustain life.

Those whose impairments induce a near-vegetative state are more prone to respiratory infection, septicemia and general organ failure, conditions which all place life at greater risk. Severity of impairment is significant when it influences mobility, feeding, and cognitive functioning.

Severe impairment can lead to other conditions. For example, severe spasticity in limbs can lead to contracture and frozen joints. Severe impairment often increases a child’s dependency on others; he or she may require 24-hour care and monitoring. The inability to be independent, provide self-care, and be mobile is thought to contribute to quality of life issues and life span, but not in all cases. Those with severe impairment can lead healthy lives well into adulthood.

Health management, modern medicine, preventive measures, and technological advances continue to optimize health outcomes of those with severe impairment.

Mobility restrictions

The severity of mobility impairment is an important factor in gauging the impact on a child’s lifespan. Limited ability to move from one place to another, or to use both arms and legs successfully, increases a child’s dependency upon others. Severe impairment, especially quadriplegia – paralysis of all limbs and torso – is a concern.

Restrictions on mobility increase a child’s dependence on caregivers. Such restrictions can also lead to other health problems which impact quality of life and life span.

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that does not progress in severity, which means the brain injury does not deteriorate over time. However, in some children, the effects of the brain injury on a child’s mobility can worsen – or improve via treatment – over time.

Spasticity can force limbs into a constantly extended or flexed state, cause contracture and impede normal alignment of the spine and hips, which further impairs movement. Pressure sores may develop when individuals are restricted to bed or sitting positions for extended periods. Pressure sores can become infected, and an untreated infection places a strain on the body and can be life threatening.

Those with physical impairment can also experience premature aging. Inactivity and lack of exercise can weaken the body and decrease immunity and cognitive function. Some children with Cerebral Palsy will use more energy to move than a child without Cerebral Palsy. The result is excessive wear on internal organs, including the heart.

In general, the lack of upper extremity function, inability to propel wheelchair, inability to roll over, and inability to creep, crawl or scoot can be areas of concern.

Feeding difficulties

Children who are able to self-feed are more likely to experience a full life than children who need assistance with feeding. Difficulty in feeding can lead to malnutrition, a condition that weakens the immune system and can lead to muscle deterioration.

Children who are unable to self-feed are reliant on their caregivers, medical equipment, or both. They are likely to have oral motor functioning impairment, meaning muscles required to chew, swallow and communicate are unable to function properly. This impairment can lead to failure to thrive, choking, and aspiration, which then can cause pneumonia or other life-threatening conditions. Irritation from feeding tubes can lead to infections. Infections are serious if not treated carefully.

Feeding issues can be mitigated by properly using feeding tubes or gastrostomy. Parents can work closely with a registered dietician to manage the nutritious value, consistency and substance of diet, and learn ways to feed that reduce the child’s risk of aspiration and pneumonia. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight optimizes health. Therapists may also work with the child to improve muscle control of the tongue, lips and bite.

Seizures

Children who experience seizures, especially severe and frequent seizures, in addition to Cerebral Palsy are at risk for diminished life expectancy when compared to children who are without seizure. Seizures originate in the brain, but are not the result of the same brain injury that caused Cerebral Palsy.

Seizures may affect consciousness, emotions, sensation, vision, and muscle control. Repeated or prolonged seizures may lead to injury or severe lack of oxygen.

With the aid of a neurologist, parents can learn how to manage and properly medicate seizure activity. Medications must be monitored and changed often. The manner of weaning from one medication and replacing with another is extremely important with some medications. Care must be taken to prevent adverse drug interventions, especially when new medications are prescribed by other doctors.

When meeting to discuss the child’s seizures with medical practitioners, parents will need to provide information about how long the episodes typically last, what body parts are affected, the type of seizure, possible triggers, and how the child behaved during the seizure.

Cognitive functioning

Intellectual capability has a strong relationship to the life expectancy of a child with Cerebral Palsy. Even in children who do not have Cerebral Palsy, diminished intellectual function will shorten life expectancy calculation. Intellectual disability occurs in roughly 30%-50% of children with Cerebral Palsy. Cognitive factors that contribute to diminished life span include:

  • Presence and severity of intellectual disability
  • Inability to speak intelligible words
  • Inability to recognize voices
  • Inability to interact with peers

It is unclear whether reduced cognitive function itself is the cause of diminished life expectancy, or the sign of a more severe level of impairment.

Visual acuity

Impaired visual function is linked to diminished life span in children with Cerebral Palsy. Current studies are focused on determining whether the actual visual impairment is responsible for shortened life expectancy, or whether visual impairment is indicative of a separate brain injury that may be life threatening in itself. Some believe visual impairment may accompany severe cases of Cerebral Palsy, which combined might indicate a risk to life expectancy.

For more information, visit Visual Acuity.

Respiratory functioning

Respiratory functioning, as well as swallowing and chewing difficulties, is a factor in reduced life expectancy for children with Cerebral Palsy. Respiratory distress makes it difficult for the body to function and can lead to life-threatening heart conditions. Severity and frequency of respiratory infection is a significant factor.

Difficulty in swallowing and feeding can lead to the inhalation of food particles. This can cause infection in the lungs or pneumonia, which are also of concern.

For more information

Visit Life Expectancy of Cerebral Palsy.

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