Cerebral palsy can be a devastating diagnosis, as this is a condition a child will live with for life. The degree of disability it causes varies from minimal to severe, but nearly everyone living with cerebral palsy will struggle with movement, mobility, muscle control, and physical pain. For some people with this condition, even eating can be a struggle. Maintaining good fitness and eating well are crucial but more difficult for someone with cerebral palsy. With the right strategies and experts, though, it is possible.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
This is the most common physical disability of childhood. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage that results in muscle and movement disabilities. Some children also have many other related complications, from learning disabilities and behavioral challenges to feeding disorders and hearing impairment.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition with no cure, and is often caused by medical errors made during pregnancy and childbirth. While some parents may take legal action and win compensation, others are left with major medical bills for life. Even with limitations and no cure, children with cerebral palsy can benefit from treatments and interventions that help them live happy, meaningful and long lives.
The Importance of Fitness
Physical exercise and good fitness is important for all people in maintaining good overall health. But for children and adults with cerebral palsy, being active has numerous additional benefits. Fitness can help individuals with cerebral palsy disabilities improve mobility and functional capacity, reducing the risk of falls and accidents. Being active helps keep bones strong, which is crucial as weak bones can be a serious issue with this condition. Fitness also helps relieve pain, helps with maintaining a healthy weight, and boosts mood and can relieve depression.
Physical Fitness Recommendations
Several different government and professional organizations have set guidelines for the amount of fitness and physical activity children and adults should get weekly. These generally include 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and two strength training sessions per week for adults, and 60 minutes of physical activity per day for kids. However, both kids and adults with cerebral palsy may struggle to meet those guidelines. There are no official recommendations for people with cerebral palsy, but most experts agree that getting as close to the guidelines as possible is important.
Adapted Exercise and Working with a Trainer
For a child or an adult with cerebral palsy, exercise can be difficult but it is a misconception that it is impossible. Even those with very limited mobility can be physically active with the right equipment and by working with the right experts. For instance, a child with limited ability to walk and with joint pain could benefit from guided swimming and water aerobics; adapted yoga can help improve flexibility and reduce pain; chair exercises can develop upper body strength; and organized sports with adapted equipment improves fitness and provides great opportunities for socialization.
The Importance of Diet
While fitness is important for good health and overall wellness, diet should not be ignored. Some people with cerebral palsy struggle with nutrition because eating can be difficult. If the muscles involved in swallowing or chewing are affected by the condition, it may be challenging to eat a variety of foods. It is important to work with a doctor to find out what can be done to make eating easier.
It can also be useful to work with a dietitian or nutritionist to figure out if there are any nutritional deficits and in creating a balanced diet and meal plans. Some people with cerebral palsy and feeding issues find it easier to consume soft foods and liquids, so smoothies made with a variety of healthful foods are great for overall nutrition. Speech and language therapy can also be helpful in managing feeding disorders. These therapists do more than work on speech; they can also help patients develop the right muscles for eating and swallowing.