Calculating life expectancy for children with cerebral palsy
Many parents may have concerns about predicting and improving the life expectancy of their child with cerebral palsy.
According to the Global Change Data Lab, life expectancy refers to the number of years a person can expect to live. Life expectancy is based on the average age that members of a particular population group will be when they die.
Cerebral palsy life expectancy is generally calculated by the severity of a child’s condition. Mobility issues, intellectual disabilities, vision/hearing impairments, and other coexisting conditions can all affect cerebral palsy life spans.
Many children with milder forms of cerebral palsy have average survival times similar to those of the general population.
Children with mild cerebral palsy have a 99% chance of living to 20 years old, whereas children with severe cerebral palsy have a 40% chance, according to Dr. Ananya Mandal.
How cerebral palsy progresses
Cerebral palsy is generally caused by brain damage resulting from a birth injury. Brain damage is a permanent injury that does not improve or worsen over time.
Cerebral palsy is a permanent and non-progressive disorder. The condition does not get better or worsen as time goes on, but the severity of symptoms can be improved and managed with adequate treatment.
Average life expectancies by severity of cerebral palsy
The life expectancy of someone with cerebral palsy can vary based on the severity of their symptoms. Cerebral palsy severity is generally categorized as mild or severe depending on the extent of the brain damage and the co-occurring conditions present.
Mild cerebral palsy life expectancy
An individual with mild cerebral palsy will likely have a similar life expectancy as an individual who does not have the condition.
An article written by Dr. Ananya Mandal, a clinical pharmacologist from the Government Medical College in West Bengal, shows that a two year-old child with mild cerebral palsy has a 99% chance of living to 20 years old. Additionally, according to a study on individuals with cerebral palsy by BMC Neurology, more than 80% of individuals have a life expectancy of 58 years or more.
Severe cerebral palsy life expectancy
Severe cerebral palsy may have a shorter life expectancy than mild cerebral palsy patients.
Patients with severe cerebral palsy tend to have significant mobility and/or intellectual limitations. For this reason, these individuals have a 40% chance of living to 20 years old.
According to BMC Neurology, the early childhood mortality rate for severe cerebral palsy patients with multiple impairments has decreased since 1990. Most children with severe cerebral palsy will reach adulthood.
The study analyzed individuals with cerebral palsy to determine their overall disability score (DISAB). The DISAB accounts for severity of movement and cognitive impairments, active epilepsy, and bilateral blindness and/or deafness. Individuals with low disability scores (DISAB between 1 and 5) had higher chances of survival over those with higher disability scores (DISAB between 6 and 12).
How to increase your child’s lifespan
There are several ways parents and caregivers can improve their child’s quality of life to increase their cerebral palsy lifespan. Children with cerebral palsy can increase life expectancy and live independently with the help of quality health care and proper treatment.
A child’s quality of life can be positively affected by improving their:
- Feeding/swallowing abilities
- Learning ability
- Overall mobility
- Pain level
- Speech and communication skills
- Symptoms associated with cerebral palsy and coexisting conditions
Most cerebral palsy symptoms, as well as coexisting conditions, can be managed or improved with a combination of treatment methods such as medication, therapy, assistive devices, and mobility aids. More severe cases of cerebral palsy can be treated with surgery, potentially offering a longer life expectancy.
The outlook and life expectancy for individuals with cerebral palsy is continuing to improve with more research and available treatment options.
According to a study by Development Medicine & Child Neurology, there has been improvement in survival for two groups of children with severe cerebral palsy that were studied. These two groups consisted of children who were significantly immobile and fed by others, and adults with gastronomy tubes. The mortality rate for these two groups fell by 3.4% annually.
Average life expectancy by type of cerebral palsy
There are multiple types of cerebral palsy. Each type can present varied symptoms that may affect cerebral palsy life expectancy.
A child with a type of quadriplegic cerebral palsy (paralysis of all four limbs) will generally experience more severe symptoms and coexisting conditions, resulting in shorter life expectancy.
Spastic cerebral palsy life expectancy
Children with spastic cerebral palsy can have varied life expectancies depending on the form.
Spastic cerebral palsy has several forms, including:
- Spastic quadriplegia
- Spastic diplegia
- Spastic hemiplegia
Children with severe impairment of movement are more likely to experience decreased cerebral palsy life expectancy. Quadraplegic individuals that experience spasticity and coexisting conditions generally have the worst outcome of all cerebral palsy patients.
Spastic cerebral palsy may also experience intellectual disabilities, which can also affect life expectancy depending on severity.
Athetoid cerebral palsy life expectancy
Athetoid cerebral palsy (also known as dyskinetic or dystonic cerebral palsy) can vary in severity and affect life span.
Children with athetoid cerebral palsy experience fluctuation in muscle tone which can greatly affect their mobility. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy patients are prone to lack of control over oral muscles. This can lead to feeding issues and the risk of choking or malnutrition, resulting in an affected life span.
Ataxic cerebral palsy life expectancy
Children with ataxic cerebral palsy may experience issues with fine motor skills and overall mobility.
Individuals with more severe ataxic cerebral palsy may be dependent on mobility devices or other people to help them move around. This can affect cerebral palsy life expectancy and overall independence since these individuals may rely on others to help them with daily tasks.
Mixed cerebral palsy life expectancy
Mixed cerebral palsy can present many different symptoms depending on the types of cerebral palsy present.
Since mixed cerebral palsy patients are at risk of experiencing symptoms of several forms of the condition, they are at a higher risk of complications. Mixed type cerebral palsy can cause issues with mobility, communication, feeding, and several coexisting conditions that can all greatly affect life expectancy.
Factors that can affect life expectancy
The two factors that have the biggest effect on the lifespan of a child with cerebral palsy are motor and intellectual impairments. As the severity of these impairments increases, the child’s life expectancy may decrease. The presence of multiple impairments may also lower cerebral palsy life span.
Children with severe mobility limitations heavily depend on the help of others to move around. The ability to move freely and perform daily tasks can affect cerebral palsy life expectancy.
Health concerns associated with severe limited mobility include:
- Poor cognitive function
- Premature aging
- Weakened immune system
Children who are confined to a wheelchair or bed for extended periods of time are also at risk for developing pressure sores. These sores can cause life-threatening infections if left untreated.
Cognitive ability is also an important factor when determining life expectancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40% of children with cerebral palsy have a co-occurring intellectual disability.
Children with cognitive impairments may have trouble speaking and understanding language. This can hinder their ability to interact with others and communicate their needs. Cerebral palsy patients with severe intellectual impairments may have to rely on others to fulfill their physical, emotional, and financial needs.
Impairment of vision, hearing, or speech
Children that experience issues with vision, hearing, or speech can often improve their communication skills through speech therapy. Severe cases of sensory impairment may decrease life expectancy.
Eating and swallowing problems
Children with cerebral palsy may have difficulty with eating and swallowing. This can lead to developmental and growth issues caused by improper nutrition.
Children with feeding and swallowing problems are more prone to dehydration and choking. Feeding problems can also lead to respiratory infections such as aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when food, saliva, liquid, or vomit is inhaled into the lungs.
Dehydration, choking, and aspiration pneumonia can become life-threatening conditions and decrease cerebral palsy life span.
Musculoskeletal disorders caused by cerebral palsy can lead to progressive loss of motor function. Common musculoskeletal conditions that occur alongside cerebral palsy include patella alta, hip dysplasia, scoliosis, spondylosis, and cervical stenosis. These conditions can cause major issues in mobility and growth leading to decreased cerebral palsy life expectancy.
Cerebral palsy can also cause respiratory issues that may decrease life span. Severe lung conditions such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia are common among children born prematurely.
Oral motor impairments and gastroesophageal reflux can lead to chronic aspiration of food, saliva, and refluxed gastric contents into the lungs. These conditions can cause life-threatening infections and illnesses.
According to the CDC, about 4 in 10 of the children identified with cerebral palsy by the ADDM CP Network in 2010 had co-occurring epilepsy. Epilepsy is a chronic disorder marked by recurrent, unpredictable seizures.
Children who have this medical condition or experience infrequent seizures are at a higher risk of injury and death than those who do not have seizures.
Cerebral palsy life expectancy in adults
Many individuals with cerebral palsy go on to live independent lives into adulthood.
According to National Health Services UK (NHS), although the brain injury that caused cerebral palsy does not worsen over time, the condition can put a significant strain on the body and cause problems such as painful joints and muscles as individuals transition into adulthood.
Adults with cerebral palsy can work to improve their life expectancy by receiving medical treatment to relieve pain. This will help individuals with the condition become more independent and, in turn, enhance their quality of life.
Examples of ways adults with cerebral palsy can improve their quality of life, independence, and life expectancy include:
- Attending educational programs and colleges that accommodate individuals with disabilities
- Consulting with career counselors
- Enrolling in workforce development programs
- Learning how to take care of a household (clean, pay rent or bills)
- Learning how to utilize public transportation if unable to drive
- Obtaining adapted driver’s license for individuals with disabilities
Treatment and quality care can improve life expectancy
Every family wants their child to live a happy, fulfilling, and long life. Getting high-quality treatment for your child’s cerebral palsy can help to improve their life expectancy.
In some cases, cerebral palsy treatment can be costly and may put a financial strain on your family. Thankfully, there are many resources available to you to help pay for your child’s medical care and support your family.
Download our free Cerebral Palsy Guide today to learn more about finding cerebral palsy treatment and resources.