CP Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is cerebral palsy?
  2. What causes CP?
  3. What types of equipment aids might a person with CP use to get around or to communicate with others?
  4. Does CP affect everyone the same way?
  5. Is CP contagious?
  6. Is CP hereditary or life threatening?
  7. Do all people with CP experience developmental delays?
  8. If you have CP does that mean you can’t work or go to school?
  9. Is there a cure for CP?
  10. What are the treatment options?
  11. What kinds of medications are available for children?
  12. Are Orthotics, Casts and Splints made for the children suffering with CP?
  13. How many people have CP?
  14. What is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?
  15. What is Choreo-Athetoid CP?
  16. What is Mixed-Type CP?
  17. What about aging with CP?

Q1 What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of disorders affecting body movement and muscle co-ordination. The medical definition of CP is “a non-progressive but not unchanging disorder of movement and/or posture, due to an insult to or anomaly of the developing brain.”

Cerebral = “of the brain”

Palsy = “lack of muscle control”

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Q2 What causes CP?

Any damage to the developing brain, whether caused by genetic or developmental disorders, injury or disease, may produce CP.

During Pregnancy

Anything which tends to produce a low birth weight baby will increase the likelihood of CP. Factors during pregnancy which may cause CP include:

  • Multiple births (twins or triplets)
  • A damaged placenta which may interfere with fetal growth
  • Infections
  • Poor nutrition
  • Exposure to toxic substance, including nicotine and alcohol
  • Maternal diabetes, hyperthyroidism or high blood pressure
  • Premature dilation of the cervix leading to premature delivery
  • Biochemical genetic disorders
  • Chance malformations of the developing brain

During Labour

  • Premature delivery
  • Abnormal positioning of the baby (such as breech or transverse lie) which makes delivery difficult
  • Rupture of the amniotic membranes leading to fetal infection

In Early Childhood

CP can occur if a young child suffers brain damage due to:

  • Infections such as meningitis
  • Brain hemorrhages
  • Head injury following falls, car accidents or abuse
  • A lack of oxygen (asphyxia) due to accidents such as drowning
  • Seizures

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Q3 What types of equipment aids might a person with CP use to get around or to communicate with others?

An enormous range of aids and adaptive equipment are now available for people with disabilities. As the number of elderly people in Canada increases, more daily living aids are coming on to the market. Adaptive Equipment Mobility Devices include:

  • Wheelchairs (manual, power and sports)
  • Scooters
  • Specially made bicycles and tricycles
  • Walkers and crutches

Communication Devices include:

  • Symbol boards
  • Voice synthesizers
  • Head sticks and keyguards for computers

Daily Living Aids include:

  • Electronic door openers
  • Large-handled eating utensils
  • Grab sticks
  • Environmental control systems

The Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia, and some other organizations, provide funding for specialized adaptive equipment.

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Q4 Does CP affect everyone the same way?

No. CP affects everyone differently. With so many different causes of CP, it is no surprise that it takes many forms. Every person with CP is a unique individual, but is likely to be classified as having a particular type of CP. Classification can be according to the type of movement disorder and/or by the number of limbs affected.

  • Classification by Number of Limbs Involved
  • Quadriplegia-All four limbs are involved
  • Diplegia-All four limbs are involved. Both legs are more severely affected than the arms.
  • Hemiplegia-One side of the body is affected. Then arm is usually more involved than the leg.
  • Triplegia-Three limbs are involved, usually both arms and a leg.
  • Monoplegia-Only one limb is affected, usually an arm.

It is important to remember that limbs affected by CP are not paralysed and can feel pain, heat, cold and pressure. It is also important to remember that, just because someone with CP may not be able to speak, it does not mean she or he has nothing to say.

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Q5 Is CP contagious?

No. CP is a condition, not a disease.

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Q6 Is CP hereditary or life threatening?

No. CP is not hereditary and not life threatening.

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Q7 Do all people with CP experience developmental delays?

No. CP affects each person differently. Some people with CP do experience developmental delays but not everyone.

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Q8 If you have CP does that mean you can’t work or go to school?

Absolutely not. Many people with CP enjoy a full and active life to the extent that their bodies are able to accommodate. People with CP enjoy satisfying careers, university education, social life, and become parents.

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Q9 Is there a cure for CP?

No. Because CP is a condition and not a disease, the best way to address the challenges it presents is to develop a treatment plan that is best suited to each individual.

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Q10 What are the treatment options?

There are numerous treatment options available to people with CP. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy all play an important role in the long-term well-being of a person living with cerebral palsy. Other therapies include Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Botox injections and sometimes surgical options enhance mobility in a person with cerebral palsy.

New therapies are developed all the time. For example: Music Therapy, which uses music for the treatment of neurological, mental or behavioural disorders. The Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia offers Expressive (Visual) Arts which provides a creative outlet.

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Q11 What kinds of medications are available for children?

Children may take medication for conditions associated with CP, such as seizures. Drugs may sometimes be prescribed for severe spasticity or painful spasms. Spasticity can be temporarily reduced by nerve blocking injections. A recent development is the injection of Botulinum toxin (“Botox”) into a spastic muscle group. This can reduce tone for several months.

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Q12 Are Orthotics, Casts and Splints made for children living with CP?

Most children with CP will be prescribed orthotics, casts or splints to supplement their therapy programs. These should be custom made for your child and help to provide stability, keep joints in position, and help stretch muscles.

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Q13 How many people have CP?

It is estimated that one out of every 500 babies, and up to one in three premature babies are affected to some extent. There are over 50,000 Canadians with CP.

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Q14 What is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

Spastic CP is the most common type and is caused by damage to the motor cortex. Spastic muscles are tight and stiff, which limit movement.

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Q15 What is Choreo-Athetoid CP?

Choreo-Athetoid CP results from damage to basal ganglia or cerebellum and leads to difficulty in controlling and coordinating movement. Children may have involuntary movements (which frequently cease while they sleep), or have difficulty with skills that require coordinated movements such as speech or reaching and grasping objects smoothly.

Some terms commonly used to describe these involuntary movements include:

  • Athetosis – slow, writhing movements, particularly in the hands and face
  • Ataxia – unsteady walking and balance problems. Ataxia results from damage to the cerebellum, the brain’s major centre for balance.
  • Chorea – jerky movements of the head, arms or legs
  • Dystonia – twisting movements and postures of the trunk or limbs

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Q16 What is Mixed-Type CP?

When areas of the brain affecting both muscle tone and voluntary movement are affected, a diagnosis of “Mixed-Type CP” may be given. Usually the spasticity is more obvious at first, with involuntary movement increasing as the child develops.

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Q17 What about aging with CP?

Although people with CP are considered to have a normal life expectancy, the physical challenges of CP may intensify with age (such as increased spasticity, fatigue, loss of strength and declining mobility), and these physical challenges can in turn lead to increased stress and anxiety. Therefore, a positive attitude makes a big difference, and developing relaxation techniques and coping skills can have a beneficial effect on mental and physical health.

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Portions adapted from “A Guide to Cerebral Palsy” by Nan Colledge.

A Guide to Cerebral Palsy

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