Cerebral palsy is a highly varied condition that can cause disabilities ranging from mild to severe and a number of seemingly unrelated complications. Because of these variations, the outlook or prognosis is different for every individual diagnosed. Some may live their lives with very few limitations with an average life span, while other children face more challenges and experience health complications that lower life expectancy.
For parents and their children, a diagnosis of cerebral palsy should be followed by extensive evaluations, interventions, and treatment plans which can impact the overall prognosis. Understanding the prognosis will help to know how to plan for the future. Any discussion of prognosis should include multiple factors, such as expected and predicted disabilities, medical complications, quality of life, and life expectancy.
Possible Prognoses for Cerebral Palsy
Because this condition is variable, and many associated conditions may impact a child’s health, it is difficult to determine an exact prognosis. What parents can do is consult with doctors and specialists to identify and manage all symptoms, disabilities, complications, and associated disorders that a child develops. This will ensure that the child receives the best and most appropriate interventions in a timely manner, which will optimize potential outcomes for that child.
While parents cannot know exactly what the future will be for their child with a cerebral palsy diagnosis, it may help to understand some of the statistics about large populations of children living with the condition. According to a review of over 1,300 studies:
- Seventy-five percent of children with cerebral palsy experience some level of pain.
- Fifty percent of children with cerebral palsy have some degree of intellectual disability.
- One-third of children cannot walk.
- One-third of children with cerebral palsy have hip displacement.
- One in four children with the condition cannot talk.
- One in four has epilepsy.
- One-quarter of children struggles with bladder control.
- One in four has a behavioral challenge.
- One out of ten children with cerebral palsy is blind.
- One in 15 children has to be tube fed.
- One out of 25 is deaf.
These are just a few of the potential complications a child with cerebral palsy may have and the prevalence of each. Every child is unique, and the prognosis for that particular child could be vastly different from what is expected from the research data. Even with these complications, the forecast for quality of life or the ability to be independent is not pre-determined. There are many ways that the outlook can be improved with treatment, even with the most severe complications.
How to Improve Outlook
The good news about predicting the future for children with cerebral palsy is that it is never permanent. In most cases, it is impossible to deliver an exact prognosis on a child. This means that parents and individuals can and should feel empowered to take steps to improve the overall outlook and expectations for the future.
To improve prognosis, it is essential that parents learn all they can about their child’s particular diagnosis with it’s accompanying disabilities and complications. Evaluations by specialists can help determine any hearing or vision loss, breathing difficulties, intellectual disabilities, mobility issues, and more.
With this knowledge, parents can then take steps to make sure their child receives the best and most timely interventions for those issues. Working closely with specialists and therapists is key to deriving the best outcome.
Treatment is crucial, but it is just one part of improving prognosis. Parents should also encourage and teach their child to be independent, to be social with other children, to do their best at school, to accept and celebrate their differences, to develop a positive attitude, and to learn how to compensate for and live with their disabilities. These factors go a long way toward a better quality of life, even when it is not possible to improve symptoms any further.
Early Intervention Improves Prognosis
The earlier these steps can be taken to improve function and quality of life, the better the outcomes will be. While cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition that will get worse over time, there are benefits to diagnosing and managing it as early as possible in a child’s life. Early intervention can help minimize disruptions to normal development, which could otherwise cause lifelong problems and complications.
For instance, some children have intellectual or learning disabilities. Treating these early with educational interventions provide a child with the tools necessary to thrive in the learning environment in spite of those disabilities. The same is true for children with speech delays and hearing or vision loss.
There are also many complications and health problems that a child with cerebral palsy may develop. These conditions may be progressive or may trigger other problems. Catching and managing them early might slow progression, reverse the course of a health issue, or prevent new problems. For example, a child may have epilepsy or digestive issues, medical problems that can be treated and managed before they get worse or lead to further complications.
Mobility is a major issue for children with cerebral palsy and one that can be improved with early interventions. Studies have found, for instance, that when a child receives therapy at a young age and learns to stand and sit without assistance, the possibility of eventually learning to walk is improved. Mobility problems can present significant barriers in a child’s life, so getting treatment, including physical therapy, even surgery if indicated, and receiving appropriate management early on is essential and may increase the potential to walk, experience less pain, take care of activities of daily living, better participate in the educational experience and have greater independence.
The last thing a parent wants to think about is a child’s life expectancy, but it is an important issue to consider and face early on. A child with cerebral palsy may have any number of associated disorders or disabilities that can impact life span. Having full knowledge and understanding of these factors allows parents to work with medical professionals to make a plan that would minimize any detrimental effect they might have on the child’s growth and development into adulthood.
A child with cerebral palsy may have one or more complications or disabilities that have the potential to limit life expectancy. These include reduced vision or hearing, seizure disorders, feeding difficulties, growth restriction, respiratory disorders, intellectual disabilities, behavioral concerns, communication challenges, and limited mobility.
Cerebral palsy is a complex neurological condition. The initial damage that caused it will not worsen as a child gets older, but there are many complications that may progress over the child’s life if ignored. The prognosis for a particular child is difficult to determine, but parents can substantially help their child by improving quality of life, mobility, independence, and other factors by making use of early intervention and appropriate treatment.