Since cerebral palsy (CP) is associated with children, much of the data comprises infants and young children. There is little information on difficulties that adults with cerebral palsy face as they get older. However, a recent study fills in this lack of data. Published in JAMA Neurology, it concluded that adults with cerebral palsy are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Conducted by British, American, and Irish researchers, they used data from the United Kingdom’s Clinic Practice Research Datalink primary care database. Their data spans the years 1987 to 2015. The researchers examined 1,705 adults, ages 18 to 99, with cerebral palsy who also received depression and anxiety diagnoses. They compared each adult with CP to three adults without CP. The researchers chose these individuals based on the same age, gender, and primary care practice as adults with CP. The data covers about 7% of the country’s population. It comprises clinical events, prescriptions, referrals, and hospital admissions.
The results showed that people with CP were more likely to have depression and anxiety than those without. They were 28% more likely to be diagnosed with depression, and 40% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety. Researchers speculate that individuals with CP have physiological, psychological, social, and health-related issues linked to depression and anxiety. This includes increased pain, limited functions, and socialization difficulties. The scientists also link pain and fatigue, which is common in adults with CP, to poor mental health.
The JAMA Neurology is not the only study conducted on cerebral palsy and mental health. In 2013, Norwegian scientists published a study on screening the mental health of children with CP. They concluded that their study supports “previous literature indicating a high prevalence of mental health problems in children with CP.” Their cohort comprised children with CP born between the years 2001 and 2003. The scientists evaluated the children’s mental health by providing the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The SDQ asks children to determine whether certain psychological problems apply to them. These include hyperactivity, conduct, emotional, and peer problems. The control group comprised the Bergen Child Study (BCS) which used the SDQ to survey all the children in the Norwegian cities of Bergen and Sund.
According to the results, children with CP had higher mean scores across the board compared to the control group. The mean scores were especially high for hyperactivity and peer problems. Children with CP reportedly had symptoms of more than one mental health issue. The study reported that 57% of children fit the criteria for psychiatric disorders. Because of the results, the researchers recommend the establishment of mental health services for children with cerebral palsy. While the study focuses on children, it provides a context on possible psychological issues children with CP may experience once they reach adulthood.
Other causes of mental health issues
Causes of mental health issues in adults with CP can also be social. Their disability may affect their ability to be employed and interact with others, especially with those who do not have CP. Adults with CP have lower employment rates than the general population. They are also more likely to experience more loneliness than those without CP. Adults with CP also feel a stigma for seeking help with their condition. These issues make it difficult to live a “normal” life, which affects their mental well-being.
While these factors may affect one’s mental health, much of this is speculation because of the lack of information on this topic. Cerebral palsy has historically been perceived as a childhood condition. However, it is a lifelong condition with no cure. Depending on how mild the condition is, adults with CP can expect to have a similar life expectancy as an adult without it. This makes it necessary to conduct more research on cerebral palsy’s effects on adults. The research can improve care that will allow adults with CP become well-adjusted.
Little information means few services
The dearth of information on how cerebral palsy affects an individual as they get older affects the level of services provided for adults with cerebral palsy. A study of Australian and Asian-educated medical students concluded that many of them knew little about the condition and held negative views of those with CP. This shows the need for improvement in educating both medical students and the public at large on cerebral palsy. Doing this would improve both mental and physical health services for adults with CP. Specialized care is easily accessible to children but more difficult to find the older they get. Improving physical health is crucial, but so is mental health as both affect one another.