Does cerebral palsy affect lifespan?

Cerebral palsy’s impact on a person’s lifespan depends on the severity of the diagnosis and availability of high-quality medical care and therapy. With milder cases of cerebral palsy, life expectancy may be completely normal or near normal. For those who are able to walk unaided, life expectancy has been estimated at 70-80 years for females and 66-76 years for males. However, it is important to remember that life expectancy varies for each person with cerebral palsy.

What Aspects of Cerebral Palsy Can Affect Lifespan?

The following health complications associated with cerebral palsy can influence lifespan:

  • Immobility
  • Severe muscular disability
  • Weak immune system
  • Difficulty swallowing

These associated conditions may affect a person’s life expectancy if they do not have access to proper medical care.

Life expectancies for one of the most severely affected groups of people with cerebral palsy  –  those who are unable to lift their heads and are fed through a tube – has been estimated to be shorter, especially without quality medical care and close monitoring by trained professionals. However, even in cases where prognosis is severe, the outlook can be greatly improved with appropriate interventions.


What Can Be Done to Lengthen Life Expectancy in People With Cerebral Palsy?

Life expectancy in people with cerebral palsy can be dramatically improved with medical treatments and therapies. Some important things to consider include:


Research shows that leading a sedentary lifestyle can increase an individual’s risk of developing a number of life-threatening conditions. Access to regular physical therapy can help people with cerebral palsy to be more active and have greater overall body function. Physical therapy not only improves quality of life, but can also lengthen life expectancy. Mobility may also be improved through a surgical procedure called selective dorsal rhizotomy, with assistive technology, with the drug Baclofen, recreational therapy, and other treatments.

Feeding safety and nutrition

Many people with cerebral palsy have oromotor dysfunction, which is difficulty using the lips, tongue, and jaw. This increases the risk of aspiration (breathing in a foreign object such as food) and subsequent aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal. For this reason, children may need to eat soft foods only, or be fed through a tube. It is very important to ensure that children who struggle to eat or are tube fed are getting adequate nutrition. Doctors should carefully monitor their weight to make sure it stays within a healthy range.

Treatment of seizures

Seizures are common in people with cerebral palsy, and can be life-threatening. There are a variety of treatments that can help to control seizures, and may also lengthen lifespan. These include:

  • The ketogenic diet
  • Anti-seizure/anti-convulsant medications
  • Brain surgery: This may involve removing a small part or an entire lobe of the brain, depending on how intense the seizures are and what is causing them.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: A device called a vagus nerve stimulator can be implanted in the chest. It sends signals to the brain, through the vagus nerve in the neck, to help control seizures.

These are just a few examples of how treatments and therapies can improve longevity in people with cerebral palsy. There are many, many more options. For more information, click here.

Should I contact an attorney?

Living out a lifetime with cerebral palsy may require extensive support and resources. These may include therapies, treatments, assistive equipment, in-home caretakers, and more. If your baby suffered any birth complications and has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, please contact us. We will fight to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve for lifelong care and treatment of your child.


Related Resources


  • Miller, G. Management and prognosis of cerebral palsy. In: UpToDate, Hoppin, AG (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2013.
  • Plioplys, Audrius V. “Pediatric skilled nursing facilities: Improved survival rates.” Vulnerable Populations in the Long Term Care Continuum (2004): 109-131.
  • Plioplys, A. V. “Life expectancy of severely disabled children: A brief review.” Book chapter in print, Case Manaaement and Life Care Plannina of the Pediatric Patient (2004).
  • Plioplys, Audrius V. “Survival rates of children with severe neurologic disabilities: a review.” Seminars in pediatric neurology. Vol. 10. No. 2. WB Saunders, 2003.
  • PLIOPLYS, AUDRIUS V., IRENE KASNICKA, SHELLEY LEWIS, and DEBBIE MOLLER. “Survival rates among children with severe neurologic disabilities.” Southern medical journal 91, no. 2 (1998): 161-172.
  • Zuromski ES. The management of mental retardation. In: Static Encephalopathies of Infancy and Childhood, Miller G, Ramer JC (Eds), Raven, New York 1992. p.119.
  • Finnie’s Handling the Young Child with Cerebral Palsy at Home, 4th Edition, Bower E (Ed), Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier, London 2009.
  • Patrick JH, Roberts AP, Cole GF. Therapeutic choices in the locomotor management of the child with cerebral palsy–more luck than judgement? Arch Dis Child 2001; 85:275.
  • Petersen MC, Palmer FB. Advances in prevention and treatment of cerebral palsy. Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev 2001; 7:30.
  • Koman LA, Mooney JF 3rd, Smith BP, et al. Management of spasticity in cerebral palsy with botulinum-A toxin: report of a preliminary, randomized, double-blind trial. J Pediatr Orthop 1994; 14:299.