Cerebral Palsy is a type of brain damage, and brain damage always affects people differently. Unfortunately, that means it’s hard to know what you can expect from cerebral palsy. Depending on the severity of the damage, symptoms may be life-threatening or completely manageable. While many people with cerebral palsy will live well into their golden years, this may depend on whether or not they receive adequate care.
What’s Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder that occurs during early human development. It’s caused by a malformation or injury to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. The most common symptoms are an array of movement and coordination problems, including tremors, rigidity, spasticity, difficulty with motor skills, impaired muscle control, and problems eating.
Symptoms and Effects
The severity and location of these impairments varies from person to person. CP can affect any and all limbs, muscle groups, and even the face. It can affect one or both sides of the body. Many people with CP have difficulty undertaking simple tasks like walking, sitting, and grasping objects. Impaired muscle control may force their limbs into stiff, painful positions. And because brain damage often has far-reaching effects, people with CP are also commonly afflicted by seizures, as well as impairments in their vision, hearing, and intellect.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
There’s still some mystery surrounding the cause of cerebral palsy. Researchers believe about 10% of cases are the result of birthing complications, like physical defects or low birth weight. Small minorities of cases occur through dehydration, illness, or other physical trauma during a newborn’s first few years. But the majority of cases are believed to be caused before birth. These cases are most likely the result of the physical trauma of birth, infections during pregnancy, or a poor supply of oxygen to the brain during birth.
Who Gets Cerebral Palsy?
About 1 in 500 newborns will develop cerebral palsy. That makes CP far-and-away the most common motor disorder for children. The only childhood disability more common than cerebral palsy is autism. It’s important to note that while symptoms continue through adulthood, cerebral palsy is not degenerative.
Life Expectancy for Cerebral Palsy
Because symptoms can vary so widely from person to person, it’s difficult to predict how CP will affect a person’s health. On average, life expectancy for cerebral palsy is between the ages of 30 and 70. This largely depends on the severity of the symptoms, if there is respiratory or cognitive involvement, and if there are feeding difficulties. Approximately 40% of cases are considered severe, with the remaining 60% regarded as not life-threatening.
But because CP is also associated with impaired hearing, vision, intellect, and mobility, life expectancy can be adversely affected for people who have these additional debilitating symptoms. In general, patients who can function without much assistance and have successful physical therapy are often able to live long lives. One study published in Pediatrics & Therapeutics found that life expectancy also depends on the quality of treatment received. To put it simply, people who need additional care and don’t receive it tend to suffer worse outcomes.
Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
While there is no cure for CP, care providers play a critical role in mitigating the risk factors that can reduce both life expectancy and quality of life. This is especially true for patients who suffer from visual, cognitive, or hearing impairments. No one can make guarantees about life expectancy with cerebral palsy, but with the right care, it’s possible to treat pain, maximize independence, and ultimately help your loved one to enjoy a long and healthy life.