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Cerebral palsy and neurological health are important because brain damage is the underlying cause of this condition. Someone with cerebral palsy can develop various neurological conditions, including epilepsy, cognitive impairment, hearing or vision loss, and others. They benefit from regular neurological monitoring and treatment.
Brain Damage and Cerebral Palsy
Neurological health is an essential aspect of monitoring and treating cerebral palsy, as it’s a condition caused by brain damage. It occurs when the brain develops abnormally or when damage causes harm to parts of the brain.
A baby may suffer this kind of damage during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or soon after birth. Exactly what causes a particular case of cerebral palsy may not be known, but there are several ways in which the brain damage occurs.
One of these is when there is damage to the brain’s white matter. Although it is unknown exactly how it happens, the gaps sometimes seen in white matter in the brains of children with cerebral palsy are thought to occur between 26 and 34 weeks of gestation.
Another cause is anything that disrupts the brain’s normal development in the womb, like infections or genetic factors. Bleeding in the brain, sometimes caused by a fetal stroke, can also cause significant damage.
During childbirth, one of the most common ways the brain is damaged is by being deprived of oxygen. This results in cell death in the brain, and the longer oxygen is deprived, the worse the damage will be. The stress of a difficult delivery or complications of birth—such as detachment of the placenta or being strangled by the umbilical cord— has the potential to cause this to happen.
Neurological Complications of Cerebral Palsy
Seizures are common in children with cerebral palsy; nearly half will suffer from a seizure disorder. A seizure is a neurological condition characterized by sudden and unusual bursts of electrical activity in the brain. If two or more unprovoked seizures occur, it becomes known as epilepsy.
Seizures can cause blackouts, convulsions, drooling and frothing, eye movements, loss of bladder control, jaw clenching, and muscle spasms.
Autism is another condition often connected with cerebral palsy. It’s considered a neurological and developmental disorder, and while the link between the two conditions is not fully understood, it does exist. Autism spectrum disorder may cause various symptoms of varying degrees, including social impairment, difficulty communicating, and repetitive behaviors.
Some children on the spectrum are severely disabled, while others are only slightly impaired.
Cognitive impairment, or intellectual disability, is also fairly common in kids with cerebral palsy. It essentially means that a child has a lower than average intelligence. With cognitive impairment, a child may struggle to socialize, learn, think and solve problems, and depending on the severity, to live an independent life as an adult.
Other consequences of impaired neurological health in children with cerebral palsy include learning disabilities, apraxia, psychological and mental health disorders, developmental disorders, and difficulties with communication.
These neurological conditions sometimes coexist with cerebral palsy, but the true connection, how one causes the other or if they have a common cause, is not always well understood.
The Importance of Monitoring Neurological Health
A child’s neurological health is important because it affects all aspects of life. The original damage that causes cerebral palsy in a child is not progressive. It will not worsen with time, and it will not be healed or corrected.
On the other hand, neurological complications or co-existing conditions can get worse over time. This may result from a child’s natural development, a lack of appropriate treatment, or other factors.
Regular evaluation is important because neurological health can deteriorate in a child with brain damage and cerebral palsy. Part of a child’s long-term care plan should include standard tests of neurological function and reevaluation of those neurological conditions that have already been identified and diagnosed.
Early interventions are crucial for children struggling with neurological problems. The sooner treatments and therapy are started, the better chance the child has of seeing the benefits of those treatments.
Early on, within the first few days of birth, surgical and other medical treatments may begin to repair some of the neurological damage. For instance, if it is known that a baby suffered brain damage or was deprived of oxygen, a hypothermic treatment can be used to cool the baby and prevent much of the damage.
Surgery to remove blood from the brain from bleeding may also help reverse or prevent neurologic damage.
However, for most children, the results of brain damage in childbirth will not be discovered until later. Even then, months and sometimes years after birth, a child can benefit from neurologic evaluation and treatments.
Educational interventions can help a child learn better in school. Medications can treat and reduce the frequency of seizures. Various types of behavioral therapies can help a child on the autism spectrum learn to communicate and socialize.
If you have a child born with cerebral palsy, you will need to be aware of the issues related to neurologic health. To evaluate, monitor, and treat neurologic health regularly is to give a child the best chance to live a fulfilling and satisfying life.
Neurological problems can be devastating, but they can also be managed. You can give your child the best life by providing the best neurologic care.
- Autism spectrum disorder fact sheet. (2020, March 13). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Retrieved from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet
- Dalvand, H., Dehghan, L., Hadian, M. R., Feizy, A., & Hosseini, S. A. (2012). Relationship between gross motor and intellectual function in children with cerebral palsy: A cross-sectional study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 93(3), 480-484.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2011.10.019
- Cerebral palsy - StatPearls - NCBI bookshelf. (2019, July 18). National Center for Biotechnology Information
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538147/