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
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.