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Growing Old with Cerebral Palsy: What to Expect

While the burden of dealing with cerebral palsy (CP) can place many restrictions on a young child, handling CP as an adult can affect the individual’s independence and quality-of-life. This is because cerebral palsy in adulthood usually requires extensive management of many medical conditions and symptoms. Oftentimes, the individual requires specialized care and ongoing assistance at some level. Fortunately, many individuals suffering with disabilities are living longer with a better quality of life and superior health care.

Unique Aging Issues

Even though all elderly adults suffer special challenges, many aging issues are unique to those suffering with mild to severe cerebral palsy. Fortunately, the condition is not degenerative. This means many of the symptoms stabilize during the aging process. However, some physical impairments and limitations felt by the elderly tend to affect those with CP much earlier in life. The most common symptoms to expect when growing old with cerebral palsy include:

  • Increased Pain – Many adults suffering with cerebral palsy experience increasing pain throughout the aging process. The most commonly affected areas are usually the individual’s neck, back, knees and hips. In addition, adults with CP tend to experience early-onset arthritis, which can greatly impact the quality of daily living.
  • Challenges with Walking – Nearly one out of four individuals suffering with CP who had the ability to walk as a child lose that ability when getting older. This is either because of the increased level of pain or because mobility is much easier when using a scooter or wheelchair.
  • Increased Potential of Falling – Falling down and suffering injuries is a common occurrence in many older individuals with cerebral palsy. This is because the disease tends to decrease mobility and increase the chance of serious injury by heightening the risk of falling.
  • Dental Health Issues – Difficulty with teeth, jaw and gums are common occurrences in individuals with CP. In many incidences, it is challenging to find dentists who are willing or able to perform dentistry on CP individuals who are usually unable to remain still during regular checkups, examinations and therapeutic work.
  • Long-Term Effects from Prescription Medications – The effects of taking prescription medications for years on end tend to result in long-term medical issues that might affect the kidney, liver, digestive system or other major system in the body.
  • Difficulty Eating and Swallowing – Many individuals suffering with CP experience impaired motor function or challenged swallowing making eating food troublesome. This problem seems to exacerbate later in life.
  • Other Health Issues – Research indicates that nine out of every ten adults suffering with CP do not receive routine preventative medical examinations, checkups and procedures. These include prostate exams, Pap smears and mammograms. Without health screenings, many of these individuals increase the risk of undiagnosed medical conditions including heart disease and cancer much earlier in life than other adults.

While individuals do not necessarily die from cerebral palsy, living with severe disabilities can cause serious complications that eventually claim the life of the person. As individuals age, they may become unable to feed themselves, leading to malnourishment and dehydration, which in themselves can cause life-threatening problems. Other individuals will suffer a lack of muscle control that can eventually lead to a serious accident that causes an injury such as life-threatening head trauma from a fall.

Premature Aging

Individuals with cerebral palsy tend to have a high risk of suffering many of the effects associated with premature aging. This is often the result of emotional and physical strains that the condition places on the body, causing organs to work harder. In addition, cerebral palsy places enormous physical and emotional tolls on the individual during the aging process that can cause permanent damage. Many CP individuals suffer high levels of depression and anxiety, which can accelerate the process of premature aging.

To date, there has not been substantial large-scale studies on cerebral palsy that follow children at a young age into their adult years to determine the associated increased risks to their health. Because of that, it is imperative for an adult suffering with CP to seek out qualified medical attention to determine the level of their physical, mental and emotional crises, along with health and hygiene needs.

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