Around one in 500 babies in New Zealand will have cerebral palsy, making it the most common cause of childhood disability in this country. There is no cure but treatments, therapy, and mobility equipment can help people with cerebral palsy live well and independently.
What is it?
Cerebral palsy is a name used to refer to cover a set of neurological conditions. It is a condition that impacts movement, coordination, and agility. It generally occurs at birth or during early childhood. Typically, it begins due to an injury to the brain, such as oxygen deprivation or illness in or after birth. Each person with cerebral palsy is impacted differently, with symptoms ranging widely from mild to severe and anywhere in between. It can have a physical effect making it challenging to move muscles. It can also cause speech and language deficits, as well as seizures.
There are three different types of cerebral palsy, but in rare cases people can have a mixture of three categories which is referred to as ‘Mixed cerebral palsy’:
- Ataxic cerebral palsy – impacting motor function, leading to balance and coordination issues. These occur due to damage to the brain’s motor control centres during development.
- Athetoid cerebral palsy – this occurs due to damage to specific regions of the brain and includes symptoms such as:
- Athetosis – decreased or slow movements of fingers or the face
- Dystonia – slow turning movements of the torso, arms, and legs
- Chorea – spasms without warning in fingers and toes
- Rigidity – stiffness and restricted movement
- Dyskinesia – involuntary body twitches and movements.
- Spastic cerebral palsy – the most frequently diagnosed type which affects 80% of people with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Muscles become stiff, and movement becomes challenging. Uncomfortable spasms may also occur. This is due to an impaired motor cortex of the brain; it falls under three distinct categories by body area that it affects:
- Hemiplegia – impacts one side of the body, primarily the arms and leg
- Quadriplegia- both arms and both legs are impaired, though the severity of this varies widely from person to person
- Diplegia – both legs are impaired, but arms may be fine, or will at least have a milder degree of impairment.
What are the treatments and therapy for cerebral palsy?
There are a range of available treatments for cerebral palsy. This is due to everyone’s diagnosis varying in severity and kind of cerebral palsy. Treatment is dictated by the type of cerebral palsy, where movement problems are occurring on the body, the severity of their condition, and pre-existing conditions an individual may have.
Physical therapy is common, as this condition generally begins at a young age. Adding this treatment into a person’s daily life as soon as possible helps develop and maintain function and movement. Exercise equipment can include weights, resistance bands, gel balls, and balance balls, which help build muscle. Specialist seating is also common, helping to maintain and develop posture and flexibility.
Treatments for managing pain include muscle relaxants to decrease stiffness. To treat muscular spasms, both painkillers and anticholinergic medicines may be used. Surgery is often recommended to make muscles and tendons longer to maintain mobility.
Mobility equipment is helpful in the daily routines of people with a cerebral palsy diagnosis, as it enables them to maintain their independence. Within potentially hazardous areas like the bathroom, bath lifts can ensure enjoyable routines like taking baths continue safely. Shower chairs and stools provide support and safety in wet areas and enable the user to shower independently and at their own pace. A shower seat can provide comfort and support during showers. Toileting equipment such as raised toilet seats and frames are helpful, ensuring that the user can stand and sit without difficulty and for maintaining balance.
Adapted cutlery is useful during meals, as products are created to suit the user. They include innovations such as improved grip, plate surrounds, slopes, and scoops for added ease of use.
If a wheelchair is required, you can choose from a diverse range which includes self-propelled, attendant-propelled, and powerchair.