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Many parents have concerns about the life expectancy of their child with cerebral palsy. Life expectancy refers to the average survival time of members of a population. Because this number is the average of a larger population, an individual’s survival time may actually be longer or shorter than their life expectancy.
There is no set life expectancy for cerebral palsy patients. Life expectancy varies with each case of cerebral palsy and is dependent on the severity of the disorder and co-existing medical issues.
Many children with milder forms of cerebral palsy have life spans close to that of the average population. In general, those with mild to moderate cases of cerebral palsy live longer than those with severe functional or cognitive disabilities.
The two factors that have the biggest effect on the life span of a child with cerebral palsy are motor and intellectual impairments. As the severity of these impairments increases, the child’s life expectancy decreases. The presence of multiple impairments also lowers life expectancy.
Cerebral palsy is not a life-threatening condition unless accompanied by serious co-existing health problems. There are a number of other health conditions and complications that can affect the life expectancy of a child with cerebral palsy.
Mobility can have a large impact not only on a child’s quality of life, but also on their life span. The more severe a child’s mobility impairment, the more dependent they are on others for basic care. There are also health concerns associated with severe limited mobility, including:
Weakened immune system
Poor cognitive function
Children who are confined to a wheelchair or bed for extended periods of time are also at risk for developing pressure sores, which can become infected and life threatening in some cases.
Cognitive ability is also an important factor when determining life expectancy. More than 40 percent of children with cerebral palsy have a co-occurring intellectual disability. Children with cognitive impairments may have trouble speaking and understanding spoken language, which can hinder their ability to interact with others and communicate their needs. Those with severe intellectual impairments may also have to rely on others for basic care, including their physical, emotional and financial needs.
Different treatments and therapies can often improved problems with vision, hearing and communication in children with cerebral palsy. However, severe cases may indicate a separate brain injury, which could be life-threatening and decrease the child’s life expectancy.
Children with cerebral palsy sometimes have difficulty with eating and swallowing. This can lead to developmental and growth issues because the child is unable to receive the proper nutrition. Children with feeding and swallowing problems are also more prone to dehydration and choking, as well as respiratory infections like pneumonia—especially aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when food, saliva, liquid or vomit is inhaled into the lungs.
Musculoskeletal disorders often present with cerebral palsy and can lead to progressive loss of function, decreasing one’s expected survival time. Some common musculoskeletal conditions that occur with cerebral palsy are patella alta, hip dysplasia, scoliosis, spondylolysis and cervical stenosis.
Children with cerebral palsy may also experience respiratory issues that can decrease their life expectancy. Serious lung conditions, like bronchopulmonary dysplasia, are common among babies with cerebral palsy who are born premature. Oral motor impairments and gastroesophageal reflux can lead to chronic aspiration of food, saliva and refluxed gastric contents into the lungs, which can cause life-threatening infections and illnesses.
As many as half of children with cerebral palsy have seizures, which are sudden surges of electrical activity in the brain. Epilepsy is a chronic disorder marked by recurrent, unpredictable seizures. More than 10 percent of cerebral palsy patients have epilepsy, which can usually be controlled through treatment and medication. Children who have epilepsy or experience infrequent seizures are at a higher risk of injury and death than those who do not have seizures.
With proper treatment, many children with cerebral palsy can lead near-normal lives. High quality, aggressive care can even increase a child’s life expectancy. In general, as the quality of a child’s life improves, their life expectancy improves. A child’s quality of life can be greatly affected by improving their:
Most symptoms of cerebral palsy, co-existing conditions and other health concerns can be managed or improved through a combination of medications, physical therapy , occupational therapy and speech therapy. There are also different surgery options and assistive devices available to improve a child’s condition, quality of life and life expectancy.
Another way to ensure that a child with CP obtains optimal care and a maximized life expectancy is by recovering monetary compensation through a legal claim. Click here to start your free case evaluation today.
Kimberlee is a writer and researcher who is passionate about helping children with disabilities enjoy a happy, healthy life. She works closely with our attorneys to create content that educates the families and caretakers of children with cerebral palsy.