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Cerebral Palsy: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

What is cerebral palsy?

According to the NHS, Cerebral Palsy is “the name for a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. It’s caused by a problem with the brain that develops before, during or soon after birth.” In that sense, an adult cannot develop Cerebral Palsy later in life, however complications from incorrect diagnosis or a lack of diagnosis when they were young can impact someone as they age. If a person’s motor skills were only affected very mildly when they were a child, they may have gone through life not being aware that they had the condition, so if it begins to impact their life as they age they may think it is only developing then.

If you are caring for a loved one with Cerebral Palsy and need further assistance, Helping Hands Home Care can help. Our dedicated team of specialist carers provide live-in, visiting and respite care options so that your loved one can remain independent.


Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy can become more pronounced in later life because of the other naturally occurring changes that the body and brain go through as we age. If a person’s brain does not develop properly in the womb or they have a traumatic brain injury during or soon after birth, Cerebral Palsy can also be the result. Other causes can include meningitis in the young, reduced blood and oxygen supply to the brain, asphyxiation during birth, or an infection caught during pregnancy.

Cerebral Palsy is identified after rigorous testing, usually as a result of expected developmental milestones during infancy not being achieved. However, if the symptoms weren’t pronounced or the support wasn’t available when the elderly person was young, it’s quite possible that a diagnosis may never have been made. In this case it will appear that Cerebral Palsy is only developing later in life as the body and brain begin their natural deterioration.


Symptoms

According to Scope, one of the UK’s leading charities for disabled people, there are many symptoms that may become more pronounced as a person living with Cerebral Palsy ages. These include increased levels of pain and discomfort, pain and stiffness in the joints, digestion problems, incontinence, and an increase in muscle spasms. One of the reasons that the muscles may become weaker and tighter is because we naturally often become less active as we age. This can cause an increase in Cerebral Palsy symptoms due to muscle contractures and lead someone to think that the condition is only developing in old age.

Some people also find that they struggle to sleep as they advance in years, and lack of quality rest can also have an impact on both cognitive function and physical decline. Struggling to communicate or live independently can be very distressing for someone as they advance in years, so some level of care at home may also be a valuable addition to the household.


Diagnosis

If Cerebral Palsy wasn’t detected when an individual was young, it may be necessary to conduct tests in later life to determine if the condition is present. If symptoms have been presenting themselves, loved ones may have encouraged the person to get tested or it may be that they’ve noticed changes in their own ability. The tests utilised to help with a diagnosis can include a cranial ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI which produce detailed images of the brain, an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to check for signs of epilepsy, or an Electromyogram (EMG) which can monitor how well muscles and nerves are working. Blood tests will also sometimes be used to detect and rule out other conditions that could be presenting similar symptoms to Cerebral Palsy.


Treatment

While the primary treatment options for cerebral palsy are medication, therapy, and surgery, some people may wish to investigate alternative methods of treatment before following one of the more conventional routes. Whatever you decide though, it is sensible to discuss your options with your GP or occupational therapist so that you are up to date on the types of treatment available to you. While treatments for Cerebral Palsy are not able to cure the condition as it results from brain injury, they are designed to support people in achieving maximum independence and living as long and healthy a life as possible.

Physiotherapy is often utilised from a young age to ensure that the person has as much control over their movements as possible, and will focus on improving strength, posture, flexibility, balance, and mobility. Surgery can include treatment for dislocations, correcting curvature of the spine, to help with urinary incontinence, or a procedure to reduce stiffness in the legs called a selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR).

Medication can be utilised to reduce pain or muscle stiffness, including a baclofen pump which can be inserted under the skin, so it targets the correct area inside the spine. Some people may also need anti-seizure medication, laxatives, or medication to help them sleep.

Occupational therapy may also be beneficial for adults, to help them with everyday activities associated with independent living. These can include advice on benefits, finding a job, accessing housing, and using technology.


Care Strategies

People with cerebral palsy can live rich, full lives, but may need varying levels of support to do so. If you are living with a mild version of the condition then you may only require a small amount of support as you age, such as help getting in and out of bed, or accessing local services. However, if your needs are quite complex then you may prefer to have someone living with you around the clock, which will ensure that all of your needs are met throughout the day and night.

Technology can also be utilised to assist you to live as independently as possible, such as devices that make communication easier. These can include assistive hearing aids, cochlear implants, and eye-tracking technology. Sometimes just making small changes to the living environment can also help someone to live as independently possible in their own home.

Removing excess furniture to another room, tidying clutter, or rearranging existing furniture can make a big difference to accessibility, as long as it’s with the resident’s permission, and small structural changes such as widening doorways and lowering switches could also help. In addition, by choosing to have a caregiver in your home you’ll quickly see positive changes to how you can manage everyday tasks, and you’ll soon wonder how you managed without them.


Special considerations

By the time they reach their later years someone may have been living with Cerebral Palsy for decades, so they really are the best person to explain how they like to live their life. This also means that they may have been living with other people’s restrictive attitudes towards their condition for all that time and may therefore try to demonstrate they can manage without asking for the help of others. They will also probably be determined to remain in their own home for the rest of their life and continue living as independently as possible. This can have wider implications than the practicalities of care for someone in this position though, such as becoming socially isolated from the rest of the community. Whether a keen socialiser or not, having regular contact with other people is necessary for everyone’s mental wellbeing, but living with disabilities can sometimes make these more of a challenge. Having support at home from a Helping Hands carer doesn’t just mean you’ll always have a friend at home though, it also means you’ll have someone who can accompany you to community events outside of your home and ensure you aren’t at risk of isolation.

Co-existing medical conditions can also pose a risk, as if you already struggle with communication it may mean that you miss out on valuable conversations with those around you. This can also be exacerbated by hearing difficulties deteriorating with age, or impaired vision. All of these combined can lead to an increased risk of depression, especially if you don’t like having to rely on others to support with personal care, mobility, and everyday tasks. This is why having a carer who has something in common with you is so valuable, and why Helping Hands work tirelessly to ensure you are matched with someone who you will connect with.


Conclusion

Living with Cerebral Palsy isn’t easy, however many people who have lived with the condition for a long time have found a way to make it work for them so that they get to live life the way they want to. Remaining independent is top of many people’s wish lists when living with Cerebral Palsy in adulthood, and whether you are able to do that alone or with the support of family, friends, or carers, you deserve to realise that wish. Approaching older age with the condition doesn’t mean you should have to leave the home you love, unless it’s what you want to do, and by having carers coming to your home as often as you need them you get to remain in a place full of precious memories.

Helping Hands have been supporting people in later life for more than 30 years, and we have experience of working with all types of conditions, including Cerebral Palsy. Our carers are handpicked to work for us because of their compassionate and caring personalities, and we then build on their existing skills to ensure they have all the knowledge they’ll need to support their customers effectively. We understand how important it is to be treated as an individual, especially when you’re living with a condition that can make life more of a challenge, and our amazing care teams throughout England and Wales work tirelessly to ensure that happens every single day. Your bespoke plan of care will take all of your needs into account and plan your care accordingly, and you can rest assured that your care will be flexible enough to change if your condition does.

There are several ways to contact us and have all of your questions around Cerebral Palsy care answered, including popping into your local branch, calling our customer service team, or chatting to us via our website. You can discover where your closest branch is by checking here.