Understanding and living with Cerebral Palsy
It is estimated that Cerebral Palsy affects 1 in 400 babies born in the UK each year. Although there is currently no cure for the condition, treatments, therapy and mobility aids can help aid people with cerebral palsy live well and independently.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is a term that is used to cover several neurological conditions. A physical condition that affects movement, coordination, balance and posture which is usually caused at birth or during early childhood. Normally caused by an injury to the brain, such as lack of oxygen or illness, before, during or after birth. Each individual with cerebral palsy is affected differently, varying from mild to severe. It can a have a physical effect making muscles difficult to move but can also cause speech and language difficulties, seizures or epilepsy.
There are 3 different types of Cerebral Palsy, but it is also possible to have a mixed combination of the categories which is referred to as ‘Mixed Cerebral Palsy’:
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy - affecting motor function, this condition is mainly categorized by balance and coordination problems that are caused by damage to the brain's motor control centres during development.
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy - caused by damage to specific parts of the brain, it can be referred to with further distinction that classifies the condition more specifically by symptoms, such as:
- Athetosis - Slow movements of fingers or the face
- Dystonia - Slow rotating movements of the torso, arms or legs
- Chorea - Sudden spasms in fingers and toes
- Rigidity - Limited movement
- Dyskinesia - General involuntary movements
Spastic Cerebral Palsy - the most common type which affects 75-88% of people living with Cerebral Palsy. Muscle tone is very stiff causing difficulty to move and painful muscle spasms. Caused by damage to the motor cortex of the brain, it falls under 3 distinct categories by body area that it affects:
Hemiplegia - both the arm and leg on one side of the body are affected
Quadriplegia- both arms and both legs are affected, whether mild or severe
Diplegia - both legs are affected but arms may not be or only mildly so
What are the treatments and therapy for Cerebral Palsy
There are many treatments for Cerebral Palsy which help to create the most manageable and healthy life as possible. As every diagnosis is different, so is every treatment depending on the type of Cerebral Palsy, the location of movement problems, level of disability and other conditions the person has.
Physical therapy is the first step as it usually begins at a young age to help toward improving independent motor function as well as strength, mobility, posture, balance and flexibility. Exercise equipment can include weights, resistance bands, gel balls and balance balls which help to improve muscle tone. Specialist seating can also be recommended to improve posture and flexibility.
Forms of treatments for managing pain include muscle relaxants to relieve stiffness, painkillers and anticholinergic medication to treat spasms. Surgery is often recommended which can lengthen muscles and tendons in the legs in order to make walking easier and less painful.
Mobility aids can help someone with Cerebral Palsy to maintain independence at home, especially in areas of the home like the bathroom where keeping independence and dignity will be important. Bath lifts can offer the luxury of bathing and support getting in and out of the bath. Shower chairs and stools provide stability in slippy areas and help the user to shower, with assistance or not, for as long as they want, a shower seat can provide unlimited support for those who may need to sit during showering. Toileting aids such as raised toilet seats and toilet frames assist with standing and sitting from the toilet and offer support for anyone with restricted movement or poor balance.
Adapted cutlery and dining wear can help during mealtimes as products are designed with features such as good grip, plate surrounds, slopes and scoops for added assistance.
If a wheelchair is needed, you can choose between self-propelled, attendant propelled, powerchairs or transit chairs whichever best suits the needs of the user.
More information and support
Cerebral Palsy Guide - cerebralpalsyguide.com/community/
Scope - scope.org.uk/support/families/diagnosis/cerebral-palsy