Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition, meaning that some kind of brain damage affected the development of the brain. This results in the brain becoming malformed in some way or that it didn’t develop normally. The damage, once stopped, will not worsen the condition, but it’s also irreversible. The damage done will persist and cause symptoms for the remainder of a person’s life.
Since it’s the brain that’s affected in cerebral palsy, neurological health is an important factor. Various neurological conditions may result from the condition and can benefit from monitoring and treatment. These include epilepsy, cognitive impairment, hearing or vision loss, and others. A child with cerebral palsy must be regularly evaluated for neurological health and treated for any resulting complications.
Brain Damage and Cerebral Palsy
Neurological health is an important 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, during 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 not known exactly how it happens, the gaps that are sometimes seen in white matter in the brains of children with cerebral palsy is thought to occur between 26 and 34 weeks of gestation. Another cause is anything that disrupts the normal development of the brain 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 in which 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— have 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 some type of seizure disorder to some degree. 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 a variety of 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 a cognitive impairment, a child may struggle to socialize, to learn, to 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 are often found to 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 get worse with time and it will not be healed or corrected. On the other hand, the neurological complications or co-existing conditions can get worse over time. This may be a result of a child’s natural development, a lack of appropriate treatment, or other factors.
Because neurological health can deteriorate in a child with brain damage and cerebral palsy, regular evaluation is important. Part of a child’s long-term care plan should include regular tests of neurological function and reevaluation 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 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 a child has suffered. 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 a hemorrhage may also help reverse or prevent neurologic damage.
For most children, however, 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 at living a life that is fulfilling and satisfying. 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.