Cerebral palsy is thought to affect around 1 in 400 births in the UK. Cerebral Palsy is the common term for a number of neurological conditions that affect muscle control and movements. This condition usually occurs in pregnancy, during childbirth or early childhood before the age of three and is caused by a problem in the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling movement.
The exact cause isn’t obvious but it is thought to occur if the brain is damaged or does not develop correctly. Cerebral Palsy causes physical disability, sensation and the ability to communicate.
It is rather difficult to say what exactly causes a child to develop the condition. Cerebral Palsy causes can include infection in the early part of pregnancy, lack of oxygen to the brain, abnormal brain development and although very rare it could be down to a genetic factor.
There are three main types of Cerebral Palsy. These are Spastic cerebral Palsy; where the muscles are stiff and weak, Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy; symptoms include muscle tone varying between stiffness and floppiness causing spasms and uncontrolled movements and Ataxic Cerebral Palsy; where there is poor coordination, tremors and jerky movements. Several people diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy will have a concoction of all three types.
Cerebral palsy is not typically identified at birth and most young children are diagnosed between the ages of six months and two years. However some babies may show obvious signs at birth of severe Cerebral Palsy, such as very abnormal muscle tone. The first noticeable sign that a young child has CP is the rate of development. Other signs are abnormal muscle tone, or abnormal movements. Paediatricians will study the babies muscle tone, reflexes, posture and movements and will closely monitor the development.
Depending on your child's age, you may also be referred to an educational psychologist so your child's intellectual development can be assessed. Further tests may be recommended to rule out other problems with similar symptoms to cerebral palsy. These can include a general delay in development or specific medical conditions.
Living with cerebral palsy
There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, but there are treatments such as occupational therapy, speech therapy and communication aids that can make living with the condition slightly easier. A specialist team will be in charge of the care of the child suffering with Cerebral Palsy. They will have a strict treatment regime in place to help with treatments and therapies. The following treatments can have a positive effect on the body and will decrease the degree of disability.
Physiotherapy is one of the main types of treatment to help relax and prevent limb deformities that occur with Spastic Cerebral Palsy. Techniques like exercise, braces and mobility training, also encouraging them to move on the floor and to dress and feed by themselves will be provided. These exercises and techniques will be shown to parents and carers to make sure the best care is given in a home environment and the physio is done on a regular basis to minimise problems.
Although usually a limited role, there are a variety of medications that can be used to make the child feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed. Diazepam can be used to relax muscles from stiffness and help with the pain, however this is short term and does not last very long. Like diazepam, Baclofen can be taken in liquid or tablet form and this is for long term management. Another treatment is Botulinum Toxin otherwise known as Botox, this can be used on a specific muscle group for example the hamstrings, the effects last from three to six months and it relaxes the muscles allowing stretching and physiotherapy.
Occasionally surgery may be an option depending on the degree of stiffness in the muscles. Surgery will loosen muscles or correct a joint deformity. This is usually performed around the ankles, knees and hips and is normally performed to increase flexibility.
There is such a wide variety of support options for families living with a child with Cerebral Palsy; it can be a very nerve-racking and stressful time which can cause problems at home or depression. There are specialist and healthcare teams to help, a huge variety of organisations to give support and information and lastly friends and family to help with personal struggles.
Cerebral Palsy can affect an enormous part of the family’s life and daily routine. Below are some great products to ease the stress and help with the child’s independence and self-esteem.
Products have been designed to help make bath times a lot easier and stress free, baths chairs can be extremely useful as well as bath lifts.
Eating & drinking aids
To aid independence and self-confidence there are some great eating aids designed to help such as, child scooper bowls, soft grip bowls and junior caring cutlery. Manufacturers have specifically designed sure grip cups and other products to aid drinking such as, drinking cups and sippy cups.
Stiffness of limbs may affect getting dressed everyday so these products help the child, family or carer. Elastic shoelaces, long handled comb and dressing stick. All of which aid independence.
For a child with Cerebral palsy they may feel very limited to what they can do, play and development can really bring a child on and gives them self-confidence. Work tables are also a great way for them to interact.
Mobility aids will be necessary for children that are either unable to walk or walk unaided. The trotter mobility chair is exceptionally great value. Other mobility aids such as the junior rollator, Nimbo posture walkers and crutches are also as helpful.
Support and information
Someone supporting someone with the condition may find the following websites and organisations information very useful.