What Medical Problems are Associated With Cerebral Palsy?

Children who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy usually have a lot of other medical problems. It is estimated that about one half of all children diagnosed with cerebral palsy have some degree of mental retardation, while others have no mental impairment at all. Some children do experience learning disabilities in particular subject areas in school, such as reading or mathematics, while still being of normal intelligence.

At least one third of the children with cerebral palsy experience seizures. Some of them do not experience seizures until later in life, but these can be controlled with the proper medications. The brain damage that causes cerebral palsy often affects the muscles of the eye, leaving most of those diagnosed with vision problems. In fact, about three out of four children have a problem with one of the eyes turning out and may also have nearsightedness. Unless the problem is detected early, it could result in the loss of vision completely in the affected eye.

When children have cerebral palsy that affects one side of the body, they generally suffer from an eventual shortening of one of the limbs. Even though this may only be by an inch or two, it is important to have the child seen by an orthopaedic specialist to prevent further damage to the spine. Depending on the degree of shortness a lift may be required to the sole of the shoe to prevent scoliosis – the curvature of the spine.

More than the normal amount or cavities have also been reported in children with cerebral palsy. They usually have difficulty brushing their teeth on their own and it may also be that they are prone to more dental problems than other children. There is also a possibility of partial or full hearing loss. Parents should notice if their baby does not blink or become startled when loud noises occur. This is very difficult to detect in young children, but if a child is not making words by the time he/she is a year old, parents should become concerned.

Most children also have spatial awareness and are unable to sense what position their arm or hand on the opposite side is in. He/She usually does not use the affected hand and needs to have physical therapy to learn how to use it properly. Just as the children have difficulty with their movements, they may also have difficulty using their mouth to talk or eat. The impairment with the facial muscles makes it difficult for them to talk clearly or to bite, chew or swallow food. The speech may be slurred and slow because they have difficulty coordinating the muscles needed to be able to make the various sounds.

Parents of these children have to adjust to a round of appointments with physical, occupational and speech therapists. In physical therapy, the children learn ways to move about and to be able to keep their balance. It may also mean learning to use certain devices to help them walk, such as braces or to be able to go up and down stairs. Speech therapists work on teaching the children how to place their tongue to make the various sounds for words and may also be able to teach them sign language as part of the communication skills they need. Occupational therapists teach them how to use their muscles to help them do things on their own, such as washing, dressing and feeding themselves. Recreational therapists help the children with muscle and joint problems as well as help them to have fun in the process. Much of this therapy is done in water, which all children enjoy.

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