Cerebral palsy is a group of conditions that affect the movement of the body and brain. It can result from several causes, including birth injury, stroke, and infection. In some cases, cerebral palsy can be effectively managed with physical therapy and other treatments. However, in some cases, your child may have permanent physical and cognitive disabilities requiring lifelong care. Here, we’ll discuss how to treat cerebral palsy and the options available if your child has severe symptoms.
Can my child’s cerebral palsy be treated?
Yes and no; in many cases, cerebral palsy can be treated and managed. Physical therapy can help improve the range of motion and reduce stiffness in the joints. If your child also has cognitive issues, a physical therapist can work with you and your child on activities to strengthen and improve memory skills.
You may also consider occupational therapy for your child to help them learn how to perform daily tasks like dressing and eating independently. These therapies can help improve the quality of life for your child as well as their independence and ability to function at home, at school, and in the community.
But what about when that’s not enough? What if the condition is so severe that even the most aggressive therapies aren’t working? Then it’s time to talk about whether or not your child’s situation might be permanent.
There are two types of cerebral palsy – spastic and athetoid. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of CP, affecting approximately 70% of all children with the disorder. Spastic cerebral palsy is characterized by spasms or stiff muscles that result from damage to the motor nerves in the brain. An injury usually causes it to the baby’s developing brain before, during, or after birth. Muscle spasms also characterize athetoid cerebral palsy, but unlike spastic CP, these spasms occur more slowly and often occur in the muscles used for movement (muscles used in speech are called “oral-motor”).
Some children with athetoid CP also have uncontrolled movements of the arms and legs that are sometimes referred to as chorea. Although most children with CP do not have severe intellectual disabilities, some children have mild cognitive delays. Doctors call this “intellectual impairment.” Intellectual impairment may be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on its cause and other factors. Children with more severe cognitive impairment may need professional support to maximize their developmental potential.
Is CP Progressive?
Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition, but symptoms associated with cerebral palsy may change over time. If a child has problems with mobility early on, chances are good that these difficulties will persist. Treatment for CP is designed to minimize these symptoms as much as possible, but even with the best treatment plan in place, it can be frustrating and difficult to watch your child struggle with his or her limitations. In cases of very mild intellectual disability, it may be difficult to recognize any significant problems because the challenges often only become apparent when the child is older. However, most children with significant cognitive impairment will require some level of additional support to help them reach their full potential. In some cases, this support can continue well into adulthood.
How is it diagnosed?
A neurologist (a doctor specializing in brain and nervous system disorders) diagnoses cerebral palsy after a careful evaluation of your child’s medical history and a comprehensive physical examination. Based on the findings from this exam, your doctor may suggest further testing to rule out other conditions that may be causing your child’s symptoms. These include conditions such as epilepsy and brain tumors.
A blood test is often ordered to check for anemia and other blood conditions that may cause delayed development. An MRI may also be ordered to help rule out certain other disorders that affect the cerebellum (the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination). Once these conditions have been ruled out, a diagnosis of cerebral palsy can usually be made confidently.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that is caused by damage to the brain during development. In most cases, the cause is unknown. Symptoms tend to get worse as the child grows and develops. Most children with CP need some therapy or special education services to help them maximize their potential. As these children grow up and become adults, they will have to confront some of the unique challenges of having a disability. Fortunately, with medical advances and supportive care, many people with CP live full and productive lives as adults.