Now, because of improvements in medical care, rehabilitation, and assistive technologies, 65 to 90 percent of children with cerebral palsy live into their adult years. This increase in life expectancy is often accompanied by a rise in medical and functional problems – some of them beginning at a relatively early age – including the following:
Premature aging. The majority of individuals with cerebral palsy will experience some form of premature aging by the time they reach their 40s because of the extra stress and strain the disease puts upon their bodies. The developmental delays that often accompany cerebral palsy keep some organ systems from developing to their full capacity and level of performance. As a consequence, organ systems such as the cardiovascular system (the heart, veins, and arteries) and pulmonary system (lungs) have to work harder and they age prematurely.
Functional issues at work. The day-to-day challenges of the workplace are likely to increase as an employed individual with cerebral palsy reaches middle age. Some individuals will be able to continue working with accommodations such as an adjusted work schedule, assistive equipment, or frequent rest periods. Early retirement may be necessary for others.
Depression. Mental health issues can also be of concern as someone with cerebral palsy grows older. The rate of depression is three to four times higher in people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. It appears to be related not so much to the severity of their disabilities, but to how well they cope with them. The amount of emotional support someone has, how successful they are at coping with disappointment and stress, and whether or not they have an optimistic outlook about the future all have a significant impact on mental health.
Post-impairment syndrome. Most adults experience what is called post-impairment syndrome, a combination of pain, fatigue, and weakness due to muscle abnormalities, bone deformities, overuse syndromes (sometimes also called repetitive motion injuries), and arthritis. Fatigue is often a challenge, since individuals use three to five times the amount of energy that able-bodied people use when they walk and move about.
Because of their unique medical situations, adults with cerebral palsy benefit from regular visits to their doctor and ongoing evaluation of their physical status. It is important to evaluate physical complaints to make sure they are not the result of underlying conditions.
Because many individuals outlive their primary caregiver, the issue of long-term care and support should be taken into account and planned for.