By Catherine Kong
What is cerebral palsy?
In the United States, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children, affecting about 1 in 345 individuals. However, despite its prevalence in the population, a majority of people are unaware of what the disorder is, or how it affects the body.
So what is cerebral palsy? Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect muscle tone and inhabit motor skills. It results from abnormal brain development that prevents people from having full control over their muscles. Almost all cases of such improper development occur when the brain is immature and the baby is in the womb; hence, cerebral palsy only develops in children. Currently, scientists are investigating what causes the brain damage and abnormal development that leads to cerebral palsy, but are unsure of a single leading factor.
What are the symptoms/effects of cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy has a wide range of effects and often varies from individual to individual. There are four categories of cerebral palsy: spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, and mixed. Spastic is by far the most common of these four, affecting around 80% of individuals with cerebral palsy. It is characterized by increased muscle tone, making their movements stiff and difficult for some regions of the body. The most severe form of spastic cerebral palsy is spastic quadriplegia, where people have stiff muscle tone across their body and often require a wheelchair since they cannot walk at all.
People with dyskinetic cerebral palsy have fluctuating muscle tone that can change from too tight to too loose within the hour. Consequently, they have difficulty controlling their muscles and their movement can vary from rapid and short to delayed and slow. Ataxic cerebral palsy makes it difficult for people to balance and coordinate, and fine motor skills are often a problem for them. Finally, mixed cerebral palsy involves multiple types of the disorder (spastic, dyskinetic, and atastic).
Alongside these motor disabilities, cerebral palsy also can result in the development of related health conditions. These can include intellectual disabilities, seizures, vision/hearing issues, scoliosis, and joint problems. Depending on the severity of the disorder, cerebral palsy can result in these additional conditions, or it can have milder symptoms than listed above.
What are treatment options?
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment can help those affected by the disorder to improve their motor ability. Forms of treatment can include medicine, surgery, speech therapy, etc. Like other disorders, these options differ based on the severity and type of disorder each individual has, and some forms of treatment do not work for everyone.
How can you help?
Even if you are not affected by cerebral palsy, it is important that we help those who are by contributing to the cause! There are many ways you can help, and most of these support scientists as they research the causes and treatment methods of cerebral palsy. The most simple action you can take is to donate- for instance, make a donation to an organization such as the United Cerebral Palsy foundation, which aims to raise money for research and open opportunities for those with cerebral palsy. You can also create a fundraiser or hold an event where proceeds go to cerebral palsy charities. Or, run a marathon where you can get some exercise and also help raise funds for cerebral palsy research! Either way, the opportunities to help those with cerebral palsy are endless, and the reward of helping them live their lives to the fullest is priceless.