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Cerebral palsy life expectancy depends on several factors individual to each person. The majority of children with cerebral palsy will live long, productive lives with the right treatment and care.
How Cerebral Palsy Progresses
It’s important to note that cerebral palsy does not progress over time. However, it’s the health issues that accompany cerebral palsy that may get worse and cause complications.
For instance, the following conditions associated with cerebral palsy may progress over time, which can impact the patient’s quality of life:
- Spasticity and movement difficulties
- Hearing and vision problems
- Cognitive and behavioral issues
- Spine and joint problems
- Gastric reflux and constipation
- Oral motor problems
- Respiratory problems
These issues don’t necessarily indicate that your child’s lifespan will be diminished. However, it does mean that being diligent in getting medical care and continuing treatment is crucial as a parent.
Is There an Average Life Expectancy for Cerebral Palsy?
There is no single number that provides a useful average for children born with cerebral palsy. This is because of the wide variety in symptoms, severity, and associated conditions. A few studies provide statistics that parents may find useful:
- The most severely impaired children have the shortest life expectancy.
- Among severely impaired individuals in one study, 59% died from respiratory causes and 49% died from pneumonia.
- In the same study, 22% of mildly impaired individuals had life expectancies similar to the general population.
- Survival has improved over the years with advances in diagnosis and treatment.
How To Optimize Your Child’s Lifespan
Keep in mind that as a parent, guardian, or loved one, you play a significant role in your child’s quality of life and lifespan.
Although healthcare professionals will provide the appropriate treatment plan, you will likely be the one to spend the most time with your child and the best one to know your child’s personality, wants, and needs.
Each child with cerebral palsy has unique needs, both physically and emotionally. Working with your child’s healthcare professionals will ensure the best options for optimizing your child’s life expectancy.
You can begin the process by keeping the following tips in mind:
- Get your child’s medical treatment and therapy started as soon as you can. Research indicates that early intervention is the best way to improve your child’s quality of life, emotional well-being, life expectancy, independence, and productivity.
- Be sure to work with your child’s healthcare providers to establish goals and expectations.
- Educate yourself thoroughly on your child’s condition and be aware of any severe, life-threatening complications by learning the early symptoms and warning signs.
- Help your child learn coping strategies. Work with a behavioral therapist who will assist you in teaching your child how to deal successfully with daily stressors.
Remember that a child with cerebral palsy will generally need more assistance than a child without the disorder. Yet, with the right care, there is no reason a child with cerebral palsy cannot have a high-quality, productive life.
Calculating Life Expectancy for Children With Cerebral Palsy
A life expectancy calculation is one way to estimate an average survival time for children with cerebral palsy. Experts base life expectancy on scientific data, the population of others with the same condition, and historical data.
The primary purpose of this life expectancy calculation is to give loved ones an answer to their very common questions about lifespan. It also helps with estimating future medical expenses. This is extremely important if you’re considering a lawsuit for medical malpractice.
Calculating life expectancy is typically done by an experienced actuary who specializes in cerebral palsy cases. The expert will base the calculation on numerous general and individual factors, as well as population statistics, estimated costs for care, medical expenses, and more.
The risk of death will also be considered, going by the average years that someone with cerebral palsy and specific types of disabilities is expected to live.
Keep in mind, however, that life expectancy is only an estimate. As we move into the future, there will likely be many advances in medical science and technology that can change the average life expectancy.
Factors That Affect Life Expectancy
In general, most children with cerebral palsy can expect to have a reasonably typical life expectancy. However, any severe associated disorders must be managed successfully.
Although it’s impossible to predict anyone’s lifespan with precision, learning about the main factors that can affect the lives of children with cerebral palsy will help you understand the disorder better, as well as what needs to be done to help your child live as long as possible.
Unfortunately, some children with cerebral palsy have feeding difficulties. Children who can self-feed generally have a longer life expectancy than those who cannot.
Not only do children who are unable to self-feed have to rely on others for meals and snacks, but they may also be prone to choking and aspiration because of their inability to chew and swallow correctly and effectively communicate.
Parents and caregivers need to be extremely proactive when feeding children with cerebral palsy. If your child has problems with choking while being fed, doctors may recommend a feeding tube.
Feeding tubes come with their own risks, such as serious infections if not taken care of properly. It’s important to work closely with your child’s physician, who can check the feeding tube regularly.
Additionally, dietitians and feeding therapists are highly recommended for children who have difficulty swallowing or use feeding tubes. A dietitian can help caregivers measure nutritional intake, and a feeding therapist will teach methods to reduce the chances of choking and aspiration.
Seizures can be associated with cerebral palsy, although not all children will develop them. For those that do, however, they may be at risk for a reduced life expectancy, especially if the seizures are severe.
The reason seizures may reduce life expectancy is that they may sometimes affect the child’s level of consciousness, muscle control, and vision. Prolonged seizures increase the risk of low oxygen levels and aspiration, which can negatively impact health.
With the aid of healthcare professionals, such as a neurologist who specializes in the problems of children with cerebral palsy, you can learn how to watch for signs that a seizure is beginning and take steps to keep your child as safe as possible.
A neurologist can also prescribe medication that will decrease the number of seizures and even lessen their effects.
Children with cognitive issues may have problems with communication, forming words correctly, hearing correctly, and interacting effectively with peers.
Experts believe these issues may play a role in reducing the expected lifespan. However, it is unclear if the cognitive problems are the reason or because cognitive issues may be associated with more severe cases of CP.
Not all children with cerebral palsy will experience cognitive disabilities, despite myths. Only around 30% to 50% of all children with cerebral palsy will have some form of cognitive dysfunction.
There are several treatment options for children with cognitive issues, but it’s important to work with your physician to determine what’s best for your child.
Examples of treatment options include:
- Special education with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)
- Speech and language therapy
- Alternative forms of communication, such as using sign language, tablets, and picture boards
The more limited a child is with walking and moving, the more dependent they are on others. While less severe forms of mobility restrictions generally do not affect lifespan, children with severe mobility issues, such as those with quadriplegia, have a lower life expectancy.
Although cerebral palsy doesn’t get worse over time, mobility may sometimes decrease as the child gets older due to the following:
- Weakened leg muscles due to lack of movement and exercise
- Pressure sores from lying or sitting in the same place too long
- Joint contractures from spasticity
- Misaligned spine and dislocated hips due to spasticity
- Physical limitations due to nutritional deficiencies
- Secondary respiratory problems
Doctors recommend that all children with cerebral palsy participate in physical therapy, but this is especially important for those with more limited mobility.
Massage therapy is often recommended to help keep the blood flowing properly and decrease spasms in muscles that aren’t used enough.
Children with vision problems run the risk of a reduced lifespan. Still, it is currently unclear whether this is due to the vision problem itself or another factor, such as damage in an associated area of the brain.
Complications and problems that occur due to vision deficits can include:
- Impaired ability to read and write
- Difficulty in the learning environment
- Lack of independence in activities of daily living
- Accidents due to the inability to effectively navigate around objects
It’s important to work with your child’s ophthalmologist to help find the best treatment plan for any vision issues. Some forms of treatment can help significantly and should be started as early as possible for the best outcome.
It’s not easy to consider life expectancy for your child, but it’s best to be prepared. Talk to your medical team about what you can do to give your child the longest life possible while optimizing quality.
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- Blair, E., Langdon, K., McIntyre, S., Lawrence, D., and Watson, L. (2019). Survival and Mortality in Cerebral Palsy: Observations to the Sixth Decade from a Data Linkage Study of a Total Population Register and National Death Index. BMS Neurology. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12883-019-1343-1.
Retrieved from: https://bmcneurol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12883-019-1343-1
- Strauss, D., Brooks, J., Rosenbloom, L., and Shavelle, R. (2008, July 11). Life Expectancy in Cerebral Palsy: An Update. Dev. Med. and Child Neurol. 50(7), 487-93.
Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03000.x
- M. Day, S., & J. Reynolds, R. (2018). Survival, Mortality, and Life Expectancy. Cerebral Palsy - Clinical and Therapeutic Aspects.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.80293
- Garfinkle, J., & Shevell, M. I. (2011). Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, and Epilepsy After Neonatal Seizures. Pediatric Neurology, 44(2), 88-96.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2010.09.001
- Data and Statistics for Cerebral Palsy. (2019, October 31). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/data.html