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 this variation the outlook or prognosis is different for every individual diagnosed. Some may live their lives with very few limitations and as long as anyone else, while other children face more challenges and may have health problems that lower life expectancy.
For parents and their children a diagnosis of cerebral palsy should be followed by extensive evaluations and treatment plans which can then help determine the overall prognosis. To understand a child’s outlook helps to know how to plan for the future. Any discussion of a prognosis should include multiple factors, such as expected and predicted disabilities, medical issues, quality of life, and life expectancy.
Possible Prognoses for Cerebral Palsy
Because this condition is complicated it is not possible to determine a specific or exact prognosis for every individual. The best parents can do is to consult with doctors and specialists to identify and manage all symptoms, disabilities, complications, and associated disorders that a child develops. While parents cannot know exactly what the outcome 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 could be vastly different from what is expected from the gathered data. Even with many of these complications, the prognosis for quality of life or ability to be independent is not pre-determined. There are many ways in which the outlook can be improved, even with the most severe complications.
How to Improve Outlook
The good news about a prognosis for cerebral palsy is that it is never permanent. It is impossible to put an exact prognosis on any child at any time. 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 a child’s prognosis it is essential that parents learn all they can about his or her particular 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 a child will have the best treatment for those issues. 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 celebrate their differences and develop a positive attitude, and to learn how to compensate for and live with their disabilities. These factors go a long way to improving 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 outlook and quality of life, the better the outcomes will be. While cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition that will get worse with time, there are benefits to diagnosing and managing it as early as possible in a child’s life. Intervening early can help minimizes disruptions to normal development, for instance, which otherwise could cause lifelong issues.
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 spite of those disabilities. The same is true for children with 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 complications. Catching and managing them early may slow progression, reverse the course of a health problem, 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.
Mobility is also a major issue for children with cerebral palsy and one that can be improved more with early interventions. Studies have found, for instance, that when a child receives treatment and interventions at a young age and learns to stand and sit without assistance, the prognosis for being able to walk later is improved. Mobility disabilities can be major barriers in life, so getting treatment, surgery, physical therapy, and using other types of management early on is important for improving a child’s prognosis for being able to move, walk, experience less pain, 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 face. A child with cerebral palsy may have any number of associated disorders or disabilities that can impact life span. Having a full accounting of these factors allows parents to make a plan to minimize the effect they have on limiting the child’s growth well into adulthood.
A child may have one or more complications or disabilities related to cerebral palsy that have the potential to limit life expectancy. These include limited vision or hearing, seizure disorders, feeding difficulties, respiratory disorders, intellectual disabilities, communication challenges, and limited mobility.
Cerebral palsy is a complex neurological condition. The damage that causes it won’t get worse as a child gets older, but there are many complications that may get worse if ignored. The prognosis for a child is difficult to determine, but parents can actively help their child improve quality of life, mobility, independence, and other factors by making use of early and regular interventions and treatments.