Cerebral palsy is caused by a birth injury to a child’s brain and is a term used to describe a group of several disabilities which can negatively impact a child’s ability to move. The condition is permanent but does not get any worse as a child matures. Although cerebral palsy (CP) is not life-threatening except in specific instances when babies are born suffering from other severe health issues. As such infants who are diagnosed as suffering from cerebral palsy enjoy normal life spans.
The Definition of Cerebral Palsy?
This disorder negatively impacts a child’s muscle tone, their movement and their motor skills. Cerebral palsy affects a child’s ability to move around in a purposeful, coordinated manner. The condition may also negatively impact a child’s other body functions which includes their muscles and motor skills. An example being their breathing, ability to talk, eat as well as a child’s bowel and bladder control.
The different types of cerebral palsy are as follows:
- Spastic cerebral palsy – this form of the condition causes movement issues and stiffness
- Ataxic cerebral palsy – this form of CP affects balance as well as depth perception
- Dyskinetic (athetoid) cerebral palsy – this form of the condition causes uncontrolled movements
Are the Causes of Cerebral Palsy Known?
Although the cause of cerebral palsy in children sometimes remains unknown, the condition is often associated with brain damage that occurs before or at the time a baby is born. The condition can also occur in the first three to five years of a child’s life. CP may lead to a child developing other health issues which can negatively impact their vision, hearing and children with cerebral palsy often experience learning difficulties.
With this said, the following may lead to a child developing cerebral palsy:
- Infections that occur during pregnancy
- A stroke when a bay is in a mother’s womb or after they are born
- Jaundice that goes untreated
- Genetic health disorders
- A mother experiencing health issues during pregnancy
- Something goes wrong during the birth of a child although this is rare
It is worth noting that babies born prematurely are at greater risk of suffering from cerebral palsy than babies who are born full-term. Infants who are deemed low-birth weight as well as multiple birth babies are also at greater risk of having CP. Examples being twins and triplets.
Should a child suffer brain damage during infancy or in early childhood, they may also develop cerebral palsy. The sort of brain damage that could lead to a baby or a toddler suffering from CP could include the following:
- Bacterial meningitis
- Lead poisoning
- Poor blood flow to a baby or a toddler’s brain
- Having been shaken as a baby or a toddler (shaken baby syndrome)
- Being involved in a car accident
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Cerebral Palsy in a Child?
Babies born prematurely or who suffer from health issues that could put them more at risk of suffering from cerebral palsy, are closely watched for any symptoms. A doctor would look for the following in a baby or toddler who is suspected of having CP:
- Delays in their development – examples being when a child does not reach for their toys by the time they reach 4 months old or they do not sit up when they reach 7 months of age
- Issues with motor skills – examples being a child not being able to crawl, move their arms and legs in a normal way, or they are not able to walk
- Movements that are uncoordinated
- Muscle tone – examples being that a baby or toddler’s muscles are too tight or too loose
- Reflexes which includes hands in fists infant reflexes or the palmar grasp which a child continues to do beyond a specific age
What Problems Does a Child With Cerebral Palsy Have to Cope With?
Children with cerebral palsy can suffer from a range of cognitive and physical disabilities. Some children with CP have great difficulty when it comes to learning or moving about whereas other children with the condition do not. The reason being that it would depend on how much of a child’s brain has been damaged. Examples being as follows:
- Partial damage to a child’s brain may only affect the part that controls their ability to walk
- When a larger area of a child’s brain is damaged, it could result in a child’s ability to talk and walk being negatively impacted
Does Cerebral Palsy Affect a Child’s Health?
Because cerebral palsy negatively impacts the motor control area of a child’s brain as well as their muscular system, it affects their posture as well as their ability to move normally. Just how a child’s health is affected would depend on which part of their brain has been damaged and the extent of the damage. As such, CP can affect children in various and different ways as follows:
- A child’s balance
- Their muscle tone
- Muscle control
- Both voluntary and involuntary movements
As a consequence, the effect cerebral palsy may have on a child’s health can vary with one child being unable to carry out manual tasks because of a weakness in a hand or arm while another child with CP may not be able to stand or walk without assistance from parents, teachers and caregivers. The same is true if a child’s speech is affected.
Because cerebral palsy can affect the motor centre, an infant or toddler with CP may be unable to control their movements and may often suffer from stiff, weak or tight muscles. Children suffering from mild types of the condition can also suffer from involuntary movements and/or tremors. If a child has a severe form of the CP, they often experience difficulty controlling their heads/necks and have trouble eating/swallowing. They also have difficulty with bladder and bowel control.
It is important to note that cerebral palsy will not cause a child to develop other disabilities on their own but the condition is often linked to other associated conditions that may have an adverse effect on the life expectancy of a child with CP. These include the following:
- Loss of vision or blindness
- Loss of hearing
- Food aspiration – when food or fluids get sucked into a child’s lungs
- Gastroesophageal reflux – when a child spits up food
- Issues with speech which often results in drooling
- Tooth decay
- Problems with sleep and associated sleep disorder
- Behavioural issues
- Problems learning
- Intellectual impairment
- Difficulty eating and drinking
- An inability to walk
It is also worth noting that living with a child with cerebral palsy often means having to cope with a child suffering from seizures and that many children who have CP require ongoing treatment/therapy and would need wheelchairs and braces as well as other types of aids.
What Treatment is There for Children with Cerebral Palsy?
Although a cure does not exist for cerebral palsy, there are things that can be done to improve the quality of a child’s life so they can achieve their greatest potential which includes the following:
- A treatment that could involve surgery to correct a dislocated hip and a curved spine (scoliosis)
- Leg braces to help a child walk
- Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy
- Specialist equipment that help children with CP to get around and to communicate with other people
- Therapies to improve hearing, emotional and social development
- Specific medicines that can help children with CP cope with muscle pain and muscle stiffness
- A diet that is high in calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus which help keep a child’s bones strong
It is also important to remember that a child’s symptoms will not get any worse over time.
What is the Life Expectancy of a Child with Cerebral Palsy?
No general studies for the life expectancy for children or people with cerebral palsy have been carried out to date, however, children with the condition can live anything from 30 to 70 years depending on how severe their condition happens to be. With this in mind, a child with mild CP will generally enjoy a longer life-span than a child who experiences mobility and intellectual issues.
It is also worth noting that children with CP who respond to specific therapies/treatments who do not have any issues with their intellectual development, and who are able to function with little or without any need of assistance can enjoy longer life expectancy that a child with more severe disabilities. With this said, the majority of children with CP even in its mildest form, typically have a slightly shorter life expectancy than people in general.
According to research published by Pediatrics & Therapeutics, the life expectancy of a child with CP also depends on the quality of therapy and treatment they are given. The study also pointed to the following which would affect a child’s life span:
- A child’s birth weight
- Whether symptoms are severe
- Intellectual impairments
- Limited mobility
Other things that would affect a child’s life expectancy if they have cerebral palsy would include them suffering from any of the following health issues:
- Respiratory disorders
All too often babies who suffer severe forms of CP also experience difficulty breathing and as a consequence find it hard to breath on their own. As such, respiratory issues are the cause of a significant number of mortality in infants.
How Can I Improve the Life Expectancy of a Child With Cerebral Palsy?
As mentioned previously, it is possible to improve the quality and life expectancy of a child with cerebral palsy by caring for them proactively. Children with milder symptoms of CP benefit from being provided with physical and occupational therapy promptly and if regularly given, it can help improve a child’s ability to move and it can help them eat without assistance. Children with CP who have no or very little intellectual limitation can also receive education needed so they can function as happy and productive adults.
What Else Should I Be Aware of When Living With a Child With Cerebral Palsy?
Babies, toddlers and children with cerebral palsy often require many different forms of specialist medical care. They need to be cared for by doctors as well as the following medical professionals:
- Social workers
If your child needs to see a lot of medical professionals and specialists, it is still crucial for them to be seen by a primary care doctor or a cerebral palsy specialist who would care for your child’s health care. They would also handle to coordinate care that your child may require with other specialists and doctors.
Looking after a child with cerebral palsy can often be overwhelming at times. As such, as a parent, you too need to accept help when it is offered whether this is provided by family members or friends. However, you can also seek help if you are facing any challenges from a local or online cerebral palsy support group with links to specific organisations being provided below:
It is essential for you to remain healthy and strong when looking after a child with cerebral palsy because it benefits everyone concerned. It is also important to work as closely as you can with the doctors and other carers so that you can develop an effective treatment plan for your child. It is also essential to adapt a treatment/therapy plan as your child grows and matures with the plans listed below being a great place to start and adapt as necessary:
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Pre-schoolers – from birth to Age 5
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids – from ages 6 to 12
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults – from ages 13 to 21
For more information on Gastro-oesophageal reflux in babies, please follow the link provided below which takes you to the NHS website:
If you would like to contact someone who can help and support you when caring for a child with cerebral palsy, please click on the link provided below: