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Challenges of living with cerebral palsy increase depression and anxiety among adults

Recent figures from Scope, the charity that campaigns for equality for disabled people, show that cerebral palsy (CP) affects around one in every 400 children in the UK.

CP is the umbrella term for a diverse group of conditions that affects the developing foetal or infant brain, often following injury causing oxygen deprivation during birth. Symptoms generally include problems with mobility, coordination, posture and balance and can include behavioural disturbance, cognitive and communication difficulties, sensory impairment, epilepsy, and intellectual disability.

Historically, CP tends to be considered a condition that only affects children, but Scope also estimates that within 10 years (by 2031), there will be a threefold increase in the number of people with cerebral palsy over the age of 65.

It is even more disturbing that the recent research from the University of Surrey and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland indicates that adults living with cerebral palsy have a much higher risk of mental health problems compared to their peers without the condition.

Those living with the physical impact of cerebral palsy but with no intellectual disability are even more likely to be affected by such problems.

The researchers behind the study looked at 28 years of UK primary care data of nearly 2,000 adults over 18 with CP. They found that the risk of depression was 28 per cent higher and the risk of anxiety was 40 percent higher among adults with cerebral palsy who have intellectual difficulties compared to those without the condition.

Those adults with cerebral palsy with no intellectual disability face an even higher risk of developing depression and anxiety: the risk of depression was 44 percent higher and that of anxiety was 55 percent higher, compared to their peers.

The lead author of the study quite rightly commented on the unique challenges facing adults with CP as they age - worsening impairments such as scoliosis, increased joint contracture, neurological hearing loss and vision decline and in particular declining mobility.

When medical negligence solicitors are able to pursue a birth injury negligence claim for someone with CP, it takes considerable time to assess what their current and future needs will be as they grow up, often including live-in carers, adapted accommodation for aids such as a wheelchair, plus up-to-date technology to improve education and communication.

In my experience, it is vital to ensure that a claim includes provision for mental health therapies into adulthood. The impact of this type of research is clearly extremely important not only for better understanding and therefore targeting such mental health risks, but also informing cohorts such as solicitors working with people with CP and their families to anticipate these risks and include provision for appropriate treatment at initial and final settlement.

Find out more about making a cerebral palsy claim.

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