Research shows trends over time in health of young adults with cerebral palsy

Because of major improvements in neonatal healthcare, children who are born prematurely or have birth injuries are much more likely to survive than they were a few decades ago.

Researchers have begun to wonder how the incidence of disabilities stemming from birth-related complications has changed over time, and whether this has been impacted by the increases in survival rates for vulnerable infants. In particular, cerebral palsy (CP) is of interest because it is often caused by birth injuries such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage from a lack of oxygenated blood flow during or around the time of birth). 

Silvia Pizzighello and colleagues from the Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. Medea in Italy recently published a paper describing the clinical profile of patients with cerebral palsy as they transition to adulthood (1). As the authors note, “Knowledge about the functioning profile of young adults with cerebral palsy can support health services in the provision of developmentally appropriate care.”

Pizzighello et al. examined data on 389 cerebral palsy patients born between 1967 and 1997. They considered the following variables, and looked for changes over time:

  • Risk factors
  • Type of cerebral palsy
  • Motor, manual, and communication skills
  • Associated impairments and environmental factors

Prior studies on cerebral palsy patients entering adulthood focused on those with normal or near normal cognitive development. However, this research included patients with severe intellectual and motor impairments in order to avoid biased results.

Results: improvement in motor function, but decline in global functioning profile

This study showed that 86% of patients had bilateral cerebral palsy (i.e. affecting both sides of their bodies); spasticity was also observed in 86%. 57% had quadriplegia (affecting four limbs) and 4% had diplegia (affecting two limbs). Many of the patients had co-occurring conditions, such as intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDDs), hearing impairments, vision impairments, and epilepsy.

Premature birth and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) were the most frequently-identified risk factors for cerebral palsy.

Over time, there was improvement in the motor functioning profile of young adults with cerebral palsy. However, the global functioning profile worsened over time due to a rising prevalence of severe multiple-disabilities. Pizzighello et al. explain:

“On the whole, about 20% of patients showed a severe impairment of motor, manual and communicative skills in addition to a severe IDD; this means that, even in adults, about one fifth of the sample was totally dependent on others for daily activities…Across the decades an increased number of severe multi-disabilities was observed.” 

This may be a side effect of increasing survival rates for newborns with severe impairments/birth injuries. However, more research is needed in order to determine the exact causes of these changes over time.

About ABC Law CentersReiter & Walsh, PC | Birth Trauma Attorneys

ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. This includes issues such as oxygen deprivation, infection, and trauma. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources. 

If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win. 

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Sources

  1. Pizzighello, S., Pellegri, A., Vestri, A., Sala, M., Piccoli, S., Flego, L., & Martinuzzi, A. (2019). Becoming a young adult with cerebral palsy. Research in developmental disabilities, 92, 103450. 

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