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Caring For Someone with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common childhood disability. In the United States, about 764,000 people currently have this condition. While some exhibit only a few symptoms, others need assistance with basic activities like walking and eating.

Depending on the severity of the condition, caring for someone with cerebral palsy can be complicated. Since CP affects motor skills, you may need to help the individual walk, go to the bathroom, eat, and dress.

Let’s take a closer look at what cerebral palsy is and what caring for an individual with this condition entails.

What Is Cerebral Palsy? 

It’s important to understand that cerebral palsy isn’t a disease. It’s a condition that affects areas of an individual’s brain that are responsible for movement.

CP occurs due to abnormal brain development or an injury to a developing brain. Brain damage usually happens before birth. However, it can also occur during the first years of the child’s life.

Risk factors for cerebral palsy include:

Low Birth Weight

Premature Birth

Breech Birth

Infections During Pregnancy

Certain Maternal Medical Conditions

Rh Incompatibility


Types of CP

While cerebral palsy isn’t a genetic condition, research shows that some hereditary factors can put an individual at risk of developing it. Different types of cerebral palsy exist. They are classified based on the main type of movement disorder affecting the individual:

Spastic CP

Affects about 80% of people with cerebral palsy. People with this type of CP have increased muscle tone. This means their muscles are stiff and their movements can appear irregular.

Ataxic CP

People with this type of cerebral palsy suffer from problems with balance and coordination.

Dyskinetic CP

People with this type of cerebral palsy have trouble controlling movements of arms and legs, which makes it difficult to walk. If the tongue is affected, an individual could have problems swallowing and talking.

Mixed CP

This type of CP is diagnosed when an individual has two or more of the above conditions. The most common mixed CP is a combination of spastic and dyskinetic cerebral palsy. For example, an individual with mixed CP can have some muscles that are too tight while others are too relaxed.

What are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

The symptoms of cerebral palsy can range from mild to severe. While some people with CP can move independently, others need assistance with basic needs.

  • Mild CP — an individual can move without assistance. The daily activities aren’t limited.
  • Moderate CP — an individual needs special equipment (e.g. braces), medication, and adaptive technology to perform daily tasks.
  • Severe CP — an individual needs a wheelchair for moving and requires extensive assistance to perform daily tasks.

Depending on the type and severity of cerebral palsy, an individual can experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Inability to walk
  • Intellectual disability
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fidgety and jerky movements
  • Tremors (shaking hands)
  • Seizures
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Eye problems (poor vision, uncontrollable eye movement)
  • Hearing problems

People with moderate and severe CP often need round-the-clock assistance. Caring for them requires special training and in-depth knowledge of the way the condition affects their minds and bodies.

What are Other Health Conditions Associated with Cerebral Palsy?

People with cerebral palsy often suffer from associated health conditions. Some of them are the result of CP while others are unrelated but commonly occurring together with the condition.

Respiratory Problems

Bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory distress syndrome, asthma, and aspiration often occur due to CP-related difficulties with swallowing, blocked airways, and inability to cough.

Digestive Problems

Central nervous system impairment and swallowing difficulties can lead to digestive issues like GERD, constipation, vomiting, and aspiration.

Hearing Impairment

Up to 40% of children with CP suffer from hearing impairments.

Speech Impairment

If muscles of the mouth (lips, tongue, vocal folds) are affected by CP, an individual can have difficulty speaking. While an individual knows what he or she wants to say, the brain can’t give the muscles the right command to turn thoughts into sounds.

Vision Impairment

Almost 10% of people with CP suffer from severe vision impairment. Up to 75% have some type of vision issues including lazy eye, optic atrophy, visual field defects (blind spots), and refractive errors.


About 35% of children with CP experience seizures.

People with CP also report sleep problems due to muscle spasms, limited ability to change positions during sleeping. Some individuals also experience ongoing pain.

With the right approach to care, people with cerebral palsy can improve their quality of life tremendously. Even if they suffer from severe CP, proper assistance can make a significant difference.

How a Family Caregiver Can Assist Someone with Cerebral Palsy?

Caring for someone with cerebral palsy requires a comprehensive approach. Besides helping the individual perform daily tasks, it’s imperative to prepare for symptoms associated with CP.

For example, an individual with cerebral palsy can suddenly have a seizure or an asthma attack. Knowing how to act in such a situation can save a person’s life.

A family caregiver may need to:

  • Assist with ordinary activities like dressing, eating, going to school or work, etc.
  • Help with personal hygiene (bathing, brushing teeth, bathroom assistance).
  • Be with the individual round-the-clock (people with severe CP may require 24/7 assistance).
  • Encourage socialization (take the individual to the park, help them participate in different activities, offer entertainment options).
  • Monitor the individual’s mood, behavior, and physical health.
  • Administer medication and respond to health emergencies.
Peggy Winter Nurse

People who have difficulty communicating often use signing, communication boards, or non-verbal cues. A family caregiver learns how to communicate with the individual and helps them improve their communication skills.

Caring for someone with CP can be difficult. Being a family caregiver takes a toll on the individual’s professional and personal life. If you are caring for a loved one with cerebral palsy, it’s imperative to monitor your own condition to prevent burnout.

Family Caregiver Program

In 2001, PASCO’s founder Barry Rosenberg initiated the creation of the Family Caregiver Program in Colorado. Today, family caregivers can be reimbursed for some of the time they spend giving care to loved ones with cerebral palsy.

To learn more about the program and caring for people with cerebral palsy, contact us at any convenient time.

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