Does Cerebral Palsy Get Worse With Age?

Cerebral Palsy Information

Older man with cerebral palsy in wheelchair hugged by younger woman at world cerebral palsy day celebration

If someone you love has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it’s natural to want to know how this will affect their outlook throughout their life. Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, so it’s important to know how the condition affects adults as well as children.

What Do We Know About Cerebral Palsy In Older People?

Research about cerebral palsy has typically focused on children. If a child has cerebral palsy, they will usually start showing symptoms within their first year or two of life. Deaths in children with CP have become very rare unless the child has severe, multiple disabilities. As a result, most children with CP live into adulthood. This disorder, which impairs the nervous system and brain, doesn’t just affect children ⁠— many adults are living with CP, too.

As medical advances have increased the general population’s life expectancy, the life expectancy of people with CP has also increased. Adults who have CP are now leading longer and longer lives. Because it’s only within the past few decades that children with CP have started living longer into adulthood, however, there is limited research that focuses on the effects of aging in people with cerebral palsy.

Can Cerebral Palsy Get Worse with Age?

Cerebral palsy always occurs early in life. CP may be caused by:

  • Injury or infection during pregnancy
  • Injury or infection during or after birth
  • Genetic mutations

“Late-onset CP” does not exist. You cannot develop cerebral palsy as an adult.

CP is a non-progressive, non-degenerative condition, which means the brain injury that originally caused the CP does not get worse over a person’s lifetime. However, as a person who lives with CP ages, the disorder may cause new issues and challenges. Additionally, premature aging, or the speeding up of the aging process, may make it seem like cerebral palsy is progressing. CP may compromise the ability to work and move effectively, making it feel as if the condition is worsening.

Cerebral palsy does not get worse with age. That said, the symptoms associated with CP may worsen or evolve over time.

Symptoms and Problems That Adults With CP Have

People who live with CP may experience a variety of symptoms as they age. Specific symptoms may depend on the type of cerebral palsy a person has. Issues common to adults with cerebral palsy include:

  • Increased pain: Pain caused by CP may manifest in adults in the knee, hip, neck, and back. This is the most common issue that adults who live with CP experience.
  • Early-onset arthritis: Arthritis may appear earlier in people with CP.
  • Difficulty walking: Some people with CP who are able to walk as children lose their ability to do as they get older.
  • Dental health issues: As dentists may not be trained to work with patients who can’t stay immobile for routine exams or therapeutic work, many adults with CP have issues finding a dentist and subsequently experience problems with their dental health.
  • Difficulty eating/swallowing: Impaired motor function may make eating and swallowing difficult for people who live with CP. These difficulties may increase with age.
  • Long-term effects of medication: Many people who live with CP may take medications for many years, which can cause health problems.
  • Injuries from falls: This common concern among older people is heightened in those with CP. As people living with CP have decreased mobility overall, they are at risk of falling more often than other older adults. This risk also increases the chance that an older adult with CP experiences a serious injury.
  • Other health problems: Many adults with CP do not access preventive medical checkups such as Pap smears, prostate exams, or mammograms. Without recommended preventive checkups, adults with CP may risk conditions such as cancer going undiagnosed.
  • Premature aging. Issues like muscle weakness and arthritis may appear earlier in adults with CP.

Cerebral Palsy and Premature Aging

Advances in management and treatment of cerebral palsy means that today, the life expectancy for people with CP is almost the same as the general population. However, people with cerebral palsy may experience premature aging. The signs of advanced age begin to appear much earlier in adults with CP, sometimes before they turn 40.

People with cerebral palsy have to use much more energy to complete everyday tasks. This leads to a strain on muscles and bones and begins to wear down the body. Overuse of joints leads to osteoarthritis (or degenerative arthritis). Overuse of joints can occur in various places, including:

  • Arms
  • Ankles
  • Hips
  • Knees

Premature aging may require older people with CP to use:

  • Crutches
  • Wheelchairs
  • Other mobility aids

Some people may lose the ability to walk completely.

Premature aging has a variety of other symptoms, including:

  • Increased pain
  • Stiff muscles
  • Problems with the lungs
  • Problems with the heart

Though incredible advances have been made in recent years allowing children with CP to lead full, long lives, cerebral palsy will have an effect on your child throughout their lifetime. This can create an enduring emotional burden and financial impact on the person living with CP as well as their family. If you have questions or think you may have a legal case, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC today. Let us help you and your loved ones seek justice.

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