Cerebral Palsy and ageing

The effects of ageing on people with CP

Cerebral Palsy is a condition in which impairment or damage to the immature brain causes physical impairments to muscles and motor control.

This leads to an inability to control muscles, movements and posture. The condition can range from extremely mild to profound. If you are severely affected, you may also experience difficulties with sensory functions or learning ability. No two people with cerebral palsy will be affected in the same way.

Many people, including some professionals, think that because cerebral palsy is a “non-progressive disorder”, physical function will remain much the same throughout life. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Some people lose no more function than might be expected from the normal ageing process, others do. This is often as a result of life-long abnormal movements, altered posture, seizures, medication and diminished quality of life and limited work opportunities. Due to the changing effects of cerebral palsy, new physical problems can emerge as people get older.

Life expectancy

It is only in recent years that more research has been undertaken into life expectancy and cerebral palsy.

If you have very profound CP with severe postural difficulties, internal organs can become compressed due to posture and contractions. You may also have complex care needs. In these cases, life expectancy may be shortened.

However, more recent research indicates that many people with CP will have a similar life expectancy to non-disabled people.  Certainly Scope is aware of people with cerebral palsy who are in their 70s and 80s.

Common problems reported by people with CP as they get older

  • Increased pain and discomfort especially in the joints resulting in less flexibility. If you experience increased pain or spasms, consult your doctor. In addition to pain relief medication or muscle relaxants such as Baclofen or Botox may help.
  • Increased spasms
  • Increased contractures (shortening of muscles especially in limbs which can result in limbs remaining in a fixed position).
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Emergence or increase in incontinence
  • Fatigue – many individuals with CP use 3 to 5 times the amount of energy that non-disabled people use when they move and walk.
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Many adults with CP will experience post-impairment syndrome – a combination of pain, fatigue and weakness to muscles and bone deformities often caused by repetitive motion.

Sometimes the effects of ageing can be heightened due to inadequate rehabilitation following surgery or even the constant use of equipment.  For example, poor wheelchair seating and support can affect posture causing pain, discomfort and sometimes loss of function in limbs.

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