Wondering how aging with cerebral palsy can affect your health and wellbeing?
Cerebral palsy is nonprogressive, meaning that the brain damage causing it does not get worse over time. However, secondary complications of cerebral palsy can worsen with age.
This article will go over the physical and psychological effects of aging with cerebral palsy and what you can do to minimize the progression of complications.
Complications of Aging with Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is motor disability that begins before birth, during birth or in early childhood. As individuals age, these childhood motor impairments can continue to affect their growth, posture, and mental health. Therefore, it’s essential to seek early management for complications and minimize their progression.
Below, we’ll go over some of the most common outcomes of aging with cerebral palsy.
Children with spastic cerebral palsy 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, having continuously contracted muscles for a long period of time causes an imbalance in the muscles, bones, and joints.
Children grow rapidly, and in combination with uneven forces on their muscles, body distortions, contractures, or dislocations can occur. This is why conditions like scoliosis and hip dislocations are so prevalent among the CP population.
Additionally, children are either born with or acquire cerebral palsy at very young ages, so many don’t understand what ‘typical’ movement is. The affected, stiffened movements have become habits and are difficult to change. Although they may learn how to move ‘correctly,’ it won’t feel normal because moving within the limitations of spastic muscles is what they have known for most of their lives.
Therefore, early intervention for spasticity in children with cerebral palsy is crucial. You want to prevent development of distortions, contractures, and pain, as well as minimize abnormal movement patterns.
Treatments for spasticity include physical and occupational therapy, Botox, baclofen pumps, and surgery.
2. Communication Difficulties
Speech, language, and hearing impairments are common communication problems in children with cerebral palsy.
Not addressing communication problems will limit social interactions as well as education and employment outlooks. These also can lead to a decreased sense of emotional wellbeing.
The best way to identify 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. These skills can carry over with them as they age, allowing them to pursue more meaningful interactions with others in various environments.
3. Premature Aging & Fatigue
Many people with cerebral palsy experience premature aging due to compromised mobility, motor function, and balance.
Living with impaired movement your whole life can add extra stress to your mind and body. In fact, individuals with cerebral palsy must use up to 3-5 times more energy to move around than those without a disability.
Body distortions can also add extra strain on certain organs or connective tissues. As a result, premature aging may be evident in the form of chronic pain and musculoskeletal problems.
4. 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 place a lot of extra pressure on your musculoskeletal system. Aging with cerebral palsy will likely result in more wear and tear on one’s body than that of the average person.
Osteoarthritis refers to the wearing down of cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions bones at a joint).
Osteoporosis describes when the bones become weak, lose density, and become prone to fractures. It’s frequently caused by aging, poor nutrition, low mobility, and lack of weight bearing.
Our bones are the structural framework of our bodies that enable movement and provide structural support. Weak bones can increase the risk and complications of falls and accidents in people with cerebral palsy as they age.
5. Mental Health
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 those without a disability.
Generally, depression is manageable through medications and psychotherapy. Practicing mindfulness (being present and aware of yourself and your surroundings at the moment) and boosting physical activity levels can also be useful in addressing depression and anxiety.
Another good idea is to join a support group for cerebral palsy. There, you can meet people who have gone through similar experiences as you and learn new ways to cope.
Understanding Cerebral Palsy and Aging
While cerebral palsy 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 impairments that result from the brain damage can. As a result, aging with cerebral palsy can have a significant impact on 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. Early intervention will minimize the development of complications.
It’s never too early for recovery and improvements!