What is the Prognosis for a Person Diagnosed With Cerebral Palsy?

babyCerebral palsy cases can land anywhere between very mild to very severe, and for that reason there's no way to establish an across-the-board prognosis for everyone who has it. Children with mild CP will have to live with the symptoms of the disease but can otherwise live long, full lives. In more severe occurrences, life expectancy and quality of life may both be reduced. Taking all cases together, a person diagnosed with cerebral palsy has a life expectancy of anywhere between 30 and 70 years-quite a broad range of prediction.

Determining a Prognosis

Physicians find it difficult to give an accurate prognosis for a child with CP until at least two years of age. Only then can they gather enough data on the child's development patterns to set reasonable expectations for life expectancy and quality of life. One characteristic of cerebral palsy that actually helps doctors predict outcomes successfully is that the disease is not progressive; the severity level will be the same at age 30 as it is at age two.

Doctors can implement a number of tests and evaluations to arrive at a prognosis, including neuroimaging, physical exams and developmental tests. Based on the child's development by certain benchmarks, the doctor may be able to predict outcomes with some degree of accuracy. For example, if a child with CP can at least sit upright by themselves by a certain age, the doctor may correctly predict the child will eventually walk. That prospect becomes less hopeful the longer the child fails to sit up autonomously.

Factors That may Inform the Prognosis

Cerebral palsy manifests in many possible ways. The number of impairments the patient has, and the severity of those impairments, may have a direct impact on the child's future quality of life and life span. In making an assessment, the doctor may take into account any/all of the following factors:

  • Number of disabilities in total, and their severity
  • Difficulties in feeding
  • Problems with respiration
  • Presence and/or frequency of seizures
  • Mobility issues
  • Impairments with hearing, vision or both
  • Intellectual impairments/mental retardation

Obviously, there may be a wide range of outcomes for a person with cerebral palsy based on the presence, absence and intensity of these and other symptoms. If a child displays only a mild version of one or two of these impairments, the odds of long-term survival go up considerably. For a child who experiences many of these impairments to debilitating levels, the life expectancy will likely be much lower.

Factors That may Improve the Prognosis

Here's the good news: Parents and physicians can have a direct effect in changing the prognosis of cerebral palsy. In many cases-especially mild ones-early response, proactive treatment and a strong support system can all greatly improve a patient's quality of life and extend their life expectancy. Such treatments include any of the following:

  • Implementing physical and occupational therapy as early as possible
  • Careful monitoring and oversight of diet and food intake
  • Implementing corrective surgeries where applicable
  • Developing and maintaining an effective pain management plan
  • Employing speech therapy and improving communications skills
  • Working on socialization skills and facilitating peer interaction
  • Treating epilepsy and related conditions
  • Early diagnosis and treatment of secondary health issues affliated with CP
  • Creating catered educational opportunities for intellectual development, including special education where applicable
  • Training in self-care techniques and nurturing as much independence as possible, based on the patient's developmental capabilities.

By responding proactively on these fronts as applicable, parents, physicians and caregivers can greatly improve a CP patient's quality of life and even help them live longer.

Cerebral palsy is by nature a debilitating condition, but it doesn't automatically mean the person who has it will be severely disabled. While extreme cases may require extended care for life, patients with mild symptoms may go on to live fairly full, independent lives. In most cases, early supportive treatments, therapies and medications can go a long way toward improving the long-term prognosis.