As modern medical technology has enabled us to live longer lives, for the first time in history, those affected by cerebral palsy are commonly starting to live well into their golden years. However, the fact this is only a recent development means that the challenges of living with cerebral palsy in old age are only now beginning to be explored. While cerebral palsy is not a degenerative disease, meaning that it won’t progressively get worse with age, it does have a more pronounced effect on the elderly.
Most notably, battling spastic cerebral palsy over a lifetime can cause a person to feel the effects of old age much earlier in their lives. Overstressed muscles due to consistent spasms can lead to early aging, which means that those in their 40s may have to deal with problems that most people won’t face until their 60s. Below you’ll find several important points about how spastic cerebral palsy affects older adults, how their needs may differ from their younger peers, and how caregivers can help provide a more supportive environment for those who suffer from the disease.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy in Aging Adults
Elderly people with cerebral palsy are at greater risk for decreased mobility as the age due to decreases in flexibility and endurance. They’re more prone to early development of arthritis, which can lead to difficulty walking, as well as an increased chance to suffer from a fall. These two factors combined can exacerbate the already significant risks that seniors face in regards to feeling isolated and suffering age-related injuries.
Furthermore, elderly people who suffer from spastic cerebral palsy tend to experience more pain, particularly in their back and joints, as well as elderly muscle tightness. Those with cerebral palsy often find that the trouble they had eating throughout their lives may become worse, and some negative effects from the long-term use of doctor prescribed medications they have used can begin to manifest. Cumulatively, this means more digestive difficulties, increased spasms related to pain and fatigue, and potentially unhealthy changes in weight.
Caring for Adults with Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Many people with cerebral palsy believe that because they don’t suffer from a degenerative disorder, their condition won’t change with age. Unfortunately, that isn’t entirely true, and many are unprepared for the fact that they will likely to lose the ability to do things they used to be to do as they get older.
Fortunately, there are several simple things caregivers can do to help offset risks and help them adapt to these changes. Staying healthy with appropriate diet and exercise is one of the most important preventative steps for holding off age-related illnesses. This is particularly important for elderly loved ones with cerebral palsy because they are at a greater risk for suffering from a fall. You can help reduce the risk of a simple fall leading to more serious injuries by encouraging light weight training if possible, and ensuring that their diet contains sufficient vitamin D for bone strength.
Being socially well-adjusted is an important part of battling the high risk of depression faced by elderly loved ones with cerebral palsy. Social isolation may lead to self-neglect, which can create a downward spiral to even more destructive behaviors. These negative personal effects may be reduced by helping your loved one maintain their independence as much as possible, and encouraging them to remain active in their communities. Anytime independent living is impossible, you should consider in-home care as an alternative. Referred caregivers can help provide essential care like dressing, transportation, and meal preparation, which can become increasingly difficult with age.
Fighting the Battle
Most family caregivers will agree that it’s not easy to meet the needs of an elderly family member with cerebral palsy. If you want to provide the best care possible, try to create a network of associates who can help share your burden. From family members that can help around the house to specialists that can help treat specific aspects of the disease, every extra link in your chain of support can help ensure that your loved one will be able to continue to live a comfortable and largely independent life for as long as possible.
Do you have a loved one with cerebral palsy? What unique challenges have they overcome and how have you or a caregiver been able to help them? Let us know in the comments below.