Parents of infants who are high risk of developing cerebral palsy now have a way to screen their babies at home for cerebral palsy.
A new phone app, created by Royal Women’s Hospital physiotherapist Associate Professor, Alicia Spittle, can help parents screen babies for cerebral palsy. The screening app is currently being tested on hundreds of infants born prematurely.
“It’s an early window into the baby’s central nervous system, or the way the brain is wired,” Spittle explained to the Herald Sun. “Traditionally, if we haven’t started interventions until the baby is one or two years old, they’ve already got muscle contractions, spasticity, and the brain has already wired in a way we don’t necessarily want.”
Generally, a child isn’t diagnosed with cerebral palsy until they’re around 6 months of age to five years of age. By then, as Spittle explained, the child’s brain has already “wired” in a way that may be able to be prevented, thanks to new app.
The screening app works by having trained assessors watch the babies, who lie on the floor without distractions, while their parents record them. The assessors look for “fluidity and complexity of movements.”
‘We’re looking for the quality of movements,” Spittle said.
Spittle said she came up with idea after wanting to learn if there was a way for physicians to better help children with traditional treatment such as physical therapy if the patients started the treatments at a much younger age.
I was really interested to see what evidence there was that if we started doing physiotherapy or other interventions earlier, whether we’d actually change the trajectory of children who particularly were born preterm or at risk of other disabilities….We always thought starting early was better but there actually wasn’t much evidence to show that.”
Only medical professionals can help determine the risk of cerebral palsy; additional assessors are being trained on how to see the early risk signs of cerebral palsy. Currently, the apps are only being used at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne. However, as the app expands and more people are trained, Spittle is hoping that it can reach people in rural and remote areas.
“We are really hoping that we can target people in rural and remote areas but also help support clinicians who are in local hospitals, who might not have access to this training.”
“Hopefully we will be able to help more families to get their babies, being at-risk of cerebral palsy and other developmental problems, potentially detected earlier so that we can get babies access to intervention,” Spittle added.