Many infants and children diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) may go on to have a normal lifespan. However, it’s important to note that the prognosis is different for each person, depending on the severity of the disorder. Although CP is not a progressive condition and many children can lead productive and fulfilling lives, there are certain factors that every parent should take into account when dealing with the prognosis and life expectancy of a disorder with such a wide spectrum of symptoms.
Factors that Affect CP Prognosis
There are a myriad of factors that will affect the prognosis of an infant or child with CP. Understanding these factors will help parents reduce health risks and help their children maintain the best quality of life as possible with their given situations:
Amount of Impairments and Disabilities
The more impairments and disabilities a child with CP suffers from, the more likely the prognosis will be negatively affected. Yet, the severity of each impairment also plays a significant role in CP prognosis. For example, a child with severe seizures and acute cognitive impairment may have a more grim prognosis when compared to a child who only has occasional mild seizures and mild cognitive impairment.
Another important aspect of CP prognosis is mobility issues. The risk of other health-related issues heightens with the seriousness of limited mobility. For instance, a child who is severely impaired, such as a quadriplegic, will have a different prognosis than a child who can walk without assistance.They are prone to have physical and emotional health problems due to lack of exercise. They also tend to get sick more often than others with less severe manifestations of the condition. Since they are unable to exercise their muscles, their immune systems are weaker and they are more susceptible to infections and viral diseases.
Additionally, children and young adults who are confined to beds or sit in wheelchairs for long periods without moving tend to suffer from pressure ulcers. If left untreated, these pressure ulcers can fester and lead to life-threatening conditions, including cancer.
Furthermore, physical inactivity affects mind-body connection. Lack of exercise often causes a child to suffer from learning disabilities and psychological problems such as depression. The inability to move independently and join other children in leisure activities isolates children with severe forms of CP and places limits on their social skills that are not present in children with milder varieties of the disability. Such isolation not only prevents a disabled child from being able to make friends and develop social relationships, it also shortens life expectancy.
Children who are able to feed themselves are much more likely to have a better prognosis as opposed to those who are dependent upon others for nutrition. Children with CP who cannot self-feed are sometimes prone to malnutrition. Furthermore, most children who need feeding assistance have difficulties chewing and swallowing, leading to choking, lung inflammation, pneumonia, and a series of other dangerous health problems. Parents of children who cannot self-feed have options such as feeding tubes, but diet and nutrition must be closely monitored. It’s recommended that parents and loved ones work with a certified nutritionist who specializes in diet plans for special needs children.
Studies are still being conducted as to whether vision problems affect the prognosis of a child with CP. Researchers and scientists are still unsure whether the visual problems alone reduce the life expectancy of a child with CP or if a brain injury that leads to vision impairment reduces prognosis.
How to Optimize Your Child’s Prognosis
Even though problems related to CP create many challenges for disabled children, their families, and caregivers, there are several ways to improve your child’s prognosis. Keep in mind that not every case of CP is the same and that you, your child’s primary physician, and other caregivers must tailor a care plan around your child’s specific needs. This requires everyone involved to be aware of a child’s physical and cognitive issues, provide the necessary treatments, and promptly address issues that require attention. Goal setting is also an important factor in the success of your child’s comprehensive care plan.
To optimize a prognosis, you, your child’s primary physician, and other caregivers should:
- Determine and consistently follow goals to treat your child’s physical disability
- Start physical therapy and other forms of treatment as soon as possible to ensure positive results
- Be mindful of any complications that may arise. These complications can be life-threatening, but being observant and reporting them to your child’s physician can lessen their negative effects
An effective care plan for a child with CP should include:
- Improving a child’s ability to move
- Instilling a sense of independence for your child as much as possible
- Encouraging self-care
- Encouraging your child to interact with others
- Encouraging and maximize learning and learning skills
- Finding solutions to common health problems
- Learning about pain management and which methods work best for your child