Treatments for Cerebral Palsy

There is no “cure” to reverse the effects of a brain injury, but there are treatments that can greatly improve the quality of life for brain injury victims. For cerebral palsy patients, treatments promote physical health, emotional health, and independence. Physical therapy and speech therapy, the most common cerebral palsy treatments, are tailored to fit the needs and age of the patient. Although a patient’s therapist plays a key role in identifying obstacles and coming up with ways to overcome them, the patient’s own perseverance is the most important factor. People who have cerebral palsy may spend hours speaking, walking, writing, moving their arms, and controlling their breathing.

In addition to physical therapy and speech therapy, drug treatments and surgery may be used to help patients. Drugs can be used to control seizures and muscle spasms, and surgery can be used to lengthen muscles and prevent contracture. Other resources for cerebral palsy patients include occupational therapy, counseling, and assistive tools and devices.

Promoting Physical Health

The majority of problems cerebral palsy patients face are linked to physical impairment. Sometimes this impairment is slight, affecting only part of the body, while at other times it can be severe, causing major physical handicap. When working with cerebral palsy patients, doctors and therapists have a few overriding goals:

To prevent contracture and atrophy of the muscles – Disuse of muscles can cause major growth problems and further handicap. Contracture can result from developmental problems in which muscle tissue and tendons fail to grow at the same pace as bones. Without treatment, contracture can cause parts of a patient’s body to lock into awkward positions. Physical therapy is often used to stretch muscles, but surgery may be necessary if therapy cannot adequately lengthen them. Atrophy, a gradual weakening of muscles, can occur when muscles are not regularly exercised. To prevent atrophy, a physician or physical therapist will usually “prescribe” a series of exercises for the patient to perform every day.

To train the patient to improve use of his or her muscles – Speaking, sitting, walking, swallowing, and gesturing are each activities that require a great deal of muscular control and coordination, and these are only a handful of the actions people perform throughout the day. Physicians, speech therapists, and physical therapists work diligently to improve cerebral palsy patients’ muscle control and coordination in order to increase the chance that they will be able to perform these daily tasks.

To help the patient develop the motor skills needed to meet the daily demands of life – At different ages a person with cerebral palsy will need to learn how to perform different tasks; a goal of physical therapy is to prepare the patient for the challenges he or she will face at each stage of development.

To control seizures and spasticity – Drugs are frequently used to keep cerebral palsy patients from having seizures. Usually seizures themselves do not injure patients, but falling or hitting an object on the ground might. Seizure medications are adapted to fit the needs of the individual patient. Spasticity can also be treated with medications. Some of the drugs most commonly used to treat muscle spasms are baclofen, dantrolene, and diazepam.

To limit the patient’s susceptibility to illness – Problems associated with cerebral palsy, such as drooling and reduced activity levels, may cause people with the condition to face an increased likelihood of becoming ill. Keeping patients healthy is a major concern.

To ensure that the patient is receiving adequate nutrition – Many cerebral palsy patients, especially those with spastic quadriplegia, have difficulty chewing and swallowing food. To prevent malnutrition, a physician may use tube feeding or gastrostomy to provide the patient with the food he or she needs.

Promoting Emotional Health

Cerebral palsy may inhibit a person’s ability to control his or her muscles, take part in activities, and join in conversations. Being limited by a physical handicap can be very frustrating and disappointing, but through support and counseling, a person with cerebral palsy may be able to work through daily the frustrations. A goal of counseling is to teach people how to communicate their needs in healthy ways. Identifying and communicating these needs is crucial to ensuring they are met. In addition to counseling and support groups, recreational activities can also contribute to the emotional well being of those who suffer from cerebral palsy.

Promoting Independence

A third component in cerebral palsy treatment is providing for the independence of the patient. Occupational therapy may be used to help a person learn skills that will increase his or her freedom. Occupational therapy can:

  • To varying degrees, some cerebral palsy patients have trouble sensing pain, pressure, and different textures. Some patients’ impaired sense of touch prevents them from distinguishing between objects.
  • Instruct a patient on how to perform such tasks as eating, dressing, and using the restroom without assistance.
  • Teach a patient how to use tools such as computerized voice systems and motorized wheel chairs.
  • Help a patient organize his or her home or work area in a way that will optimize freedom and reduce risk of injury.
  • Introduce a patient to transportation options, recreational programs, job placement services, and other resources.

Speech therapy, physical therapy, counseling, and occupational therapy can help cerebral palsy patients’ deal with physical disabilities. If your child has ataxic, athetoid, mixed, or spastic cerebral palsy, look into these treatment options.

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