Cerebral Palsy in Adults

Overcoming Challenges for the Best Quality of Life

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Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that affects control of the body’s movements, and it often has other effects as well. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage that occurs before or immediately after a person is born.

The condition is congenital—meaning it cannot begin during adulthood. However, adult cerebral palsy is becoming more common due to better treatments that improve survival and improve overall functions, such as the ability to walk with less reliance on assistive devices. 

A couple with cerebral palsy in the kitchen

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The severity of the disease is associated with life expectancy, so adults who have cerebral palsy often have milder forms of the condition. Effects of cerebral palsy in adults can include impaired muscle control, stiff muscles, involuntary movements, cognitive limitations, seizures, and vision and/or hearing problems.

Adults living with cerebral palsy can also experience complications, such as depression, bone and joint problems, premature aging, and more.

Associated Developmental Problems 

A number of developmental problems can occur with cerebral palsy. These can cause substantial day-to-day limitations, and they require intervention to minimize their effects on a person’s health and quality of life.

These effects begin during childhood, but they can impact your life differently during adulthood than they do during childhood. 

Intellectual Impairment

Many people who have cerebral palsy do not have any cognitive limitations, but the condition can cause intellectual impairment for some people.

Your doctors can administer tests of cognitive abilities to help determine if you can drive, whether you need accommodations for work or school, and what type of help you might need with some aspects of your self-care. 

Epilepsy

Recurrent seizures associated with cerebral palsy can include one or more seizure types and should be managed with anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs). You might experience adequate seizure control with one medication for many years, or your doctor might prescribe a new medication for you if you experience side effects or if your seizures are not well controlled.

Sometimes, with cerebral palsy, good seizure control in the early years can reduce the need for AEDs later in life.

Impaired Vision

Visual problems caused by cerebral palsy can include diminished visual acuity, limitations in visual fields, and impairment of eye movements. Depending on the severity and the exact problem, visual issues might be managed with corrective lenses, require a surgical procedure, or necessitate restrictions (such as driving).

Hearing Problems

Cerebral palsy increases the risk of hearing loss. This problem is not expected to improve with age; in fact, it can worsen. Sometimes hearing aids or surgery may be beneficial, and in some situations, sign language or other adaptations can be helpful.

Behavioral Problems

Behavioral issues due to cerebral palsy usually begin during childhood and can be related to cognitive limitations, emotional issues, or difficulty with self-control. These problems contribute to difficulties with social interactions.

Behavioral challenges can have different effects throughout a person’s life. Often, therapy and family counseling can help with reducing the effects of behavioral problems. 

Challenges for Adults With Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy causes premature aging and can increase the risk and timeline for conditions that would normally be a concern for aging adults, such as cerebrovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis.

These conditions can be dangerous—but medical care and intervention can help prevent or slow progression. It’s important to get attention for any chronic issues that you are facing as an adult.

Because cerebral palsy increases the risk of certain health issues at a younger age than usual, your medical team will screen for these problems so you can get a diagnosis and a treatment plan before problems progress. 

Mental Health 

Adults who have cerebral palsy face an increased risk of depression. Living with cerebral palsy adds mental health challenges for several reasons.

It can be difficult if you have to rely on others for basic self-care needs. You might face challenges in achieving what you want to achieve due to physical or other limitations, or other people’s perceptions. Be sure to discuss your mood with your doctor, who may suggest counseling and/or medication for you. 

Pain

A number of factors can cause cerebral palsy-associated pain. Cerebral palsy can increase the risk of osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by degenerative joint pain. Additionally, muscle spasticity and contractures are common with this condition and can contribute to chronic pain. 

Treatments for persistent or recurrent pain can include physical therapy, medications, or injections. Often, a combination of these is effective for adults who have cerebral palsy. 

Post-Impairment Syndrome 

This condition develops after living with cerebral palsy for many years. It is characterized by symptoms of pain, depression, weakness, fatigue, and arthritis. All of these issues can worsen over time, making the overall burden of living with cerebral palsy more difficult.

It is important to seek medical care from a healthcare team that understands the factors that contribute to post-impairment syndrome so you can have an ongoing assessment and a long-term treatment plan.

Work-Related Challenges 

It can be difficult to find work when you have cerebral palsy. You might have physical, visual, hearing, or cognitive limitations that make it difficult for you to do some jobs.

If you want to work, it is important that you seek assistance and guidance from an organization that helps adults who have disabilities so you can be directed to an environment where you will have accommodations and a work setting that’s appropriate for you.

Social Life

A person with cerebral palsy may have difficulty integrating socially. While this might not be a problem for everyone who has cerebral palsy, it can be a lifelong challenge for many.

Talk to your family members about your social needs. Try to work on building a circle of trusted friends and family who you feel comfortable socializing with. You can form strong relationships, and you can be a source of emotional support and friendship for your loved ones as well.

It can also help to address this problem head-on by discussing it with your doctor so you can be referred to a therapist, counselor, or group setting that can help you achieve your social goals.

Improving Quality of Life 

The best way to optimize your quality of life with cerebral palsy is with early intervention, beginning during childhood, as soon as symptoms start. Throughout young adulthood and beyond, it is important to maintain regular medical visits and to know the signs of complications that you should be looking out for.

Adults living with cerebral palsy may need a combination of medication, procedures, ongoing physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling. A multidisciplinary approach can be beneficial, with your medical team consisting of therapists and doctors who regularly treat patients who have adult cerebral palsy. 

Be sure to have at least one or more people who you trust and can turn to for support and practical help, such as a family member or friend.

Support groups can also be a great resource to use. You can gain a sense of community and get practical advice about day-to-day concerns and issues, such as assistive devices, practical ways to get around, and work and school accommodations. 

A Word From Verywell

Cerebral palsy is often considered a childhood condition. However, there is a range in the severity of cerebral palsy, and advances in treatment can help people who have the disorder thrive well into adulthood. You can have a normal life expectancy with cerebral palsy, especially if you have a mild form.

Living with cerebral palsy as an adult often means that you have different health, emotional, and social concerns to address than children who have the condition. Be sure to seek professional medical care for these concerns so you can enjoy your family life, social life, hobbies, fitness, and achieve many of your goals while living with cerebral palsy.

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