Wondering what to expect when aging with cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is nonprogressive, meaning that the brain damage does not get worse over time.
However, secondary complications of cerebral palsy can worsen as you get older.
Today, we’ll go over how aging with cerebral palsy can affect your body and mind, and what you can do to prevent secondary and associative conditions from worsening over time.
Aging with Cerebral Palsy
Not only do people have to continue to deal with cerebral palsy as they get older, but they also have to deal with the illnesses and impairments that come with age.
Let’s go over some of the most common outcomes of aging with cerebral palsy.
Children with spastic cerebral palsy are going to experience high muscle tone, which can cause stiffness, tremors, and pain.
While the brain damage that caused cerebral palsy does not get worse over time, spasticity can.
In fact, this progression of continuously contracted muscles causes an imbalance in the muscles, bones, and joints.
Children grow rapidly, and in combination with uneven muscle pull, body distortions or dislocations can occur.
This is why conditions like scoliosis and hip dislocations are so common in people with cerebral palsy.
Additionally, children are either born with or get cerebral palsy at very young ages, so many don’t understand what ‘normal’ movement is.
The abnormal movement has become a habit and is difficult to change because although they may learn how to move ‘correctly,’ it won’t feel normal.
Therefore, early intervention of spasticity in children with cerebral palsy is crucial. You want to prevent distortions, pain, and minimize abnormal movement.
Treatments for spasticity include physical therapy, Botox, baclofen pumps, and surgery.
Communication problems common in children with cerebral palsy include speech, language, and hearing impairments.
Because these conditions are not directly caused by cerebral palsy, they can progress with age.
Untreated communication problems will limit social interactions as well as education and employment outlooks.
The best way to manage any communication problem is to have regular speech, language, and hearing examinations.
A speech-language pathologist can teach your child how to effectively communicate and develop their social skills.
Premature Aging & Fatigue
Many people with cerebral palsy experience premature aging because mobility, motor function, and balance are compromised.
Living with impaired movement your whole life can add extra stress to your mind and body.
In fact, the bodies of people with cerebral palsy have to use up to 3x more energy to move around than non-disabled people.
Body distortions can also add extra strain on certain organs or connective tissues.
Premature aging may be evident in the form of chronic pain and musculoskeletal problems.
Musculoskeletal problems associated with cerebral palsy other than spasticity, scoliosis, and hip dislocation (which we mentioned earlier) include osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
Cerebral palsy can put a lot of extra pressure on your musculoskeletal system. Aging with cerebral palsy will inevitably result in some wear and tear.
Osteoarthritis is the wearing down of cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions bones at a joint).
Osteoporosis is when the bones become weak, lose density, and become prone to fractures.
It’s caused by aging, poor nutrition, and low mobility.
Our bones are the structural framework of our bodies that enable movement and provide structural support.
Weak bones can increase the risk of falls and accidents in people with cerebral palsy as they age.
Aging with cerebral palsy affects not only the body but also the mind.
Adults with cerebral palsy are more likely to experience depression or anxiety than nondisabled adults.
It’s important to understand that there is a high risk for depression so that you can keep an eye out for signs of it and seek help.
Depression is manageable through medications and psychotherapy.
Another good idea is to join a support group for cerebral palsy.
You can meet people who have gone through similar experiences as you and learn new ways to cope.
Cerebral Palsy in Adulthood
Cerebral palsy is not just a childhood disease.
While it begins in childhood, it lasts for a lifetime and as adults, it’s important to understand how your disability can affect your future.
The brain damage that caused cerebral palsy won’t progress, but the motor impairment can affect growth in children.
Secondary and associative conditions of cerebral palsy can worsen with aging and may negatively affect one’s communication skills, energy levels, and physical and mental health.
Now that you’re aware of the potential problems that may arise when aging with cerebral palsy, be proactive and take preventative measures.
It’s never too early for recovery!