Cerebral Palsy Research Network Blog

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Neurologic Care for Adults with CP

Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil
Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil

Most people living with cerebral palsy today are adults, yet there is a disconnect about how childhood neurological care should transition into adulthood. Today, Dr. Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil, shares her efforts to bridge that gap…

As a pediatric neurologist, the bulk of my practice is caring for children with cerebral palsy, yet I did not receive training in the unique needs and concerns of adults with the condition.

As my patients make the often-difficult transition away from pediatric care to adult care, what medical symptoms and red flags do I tell them to watch out for? How can I help them advocate for their medical needs? How do I convince my adult neurologist colleagues that CP is not just something that happens to kids? These kids become adults, and they still need us. 

Last year, I was elected as Vice-Chair of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Section. My election was bolstered after I sounded the alarm that neurologists who care for adults should increase their focus on patients with CP. I am not alone in my passion for this topic, and there is a growing consensus that we need more expertise. 

As I investigated this issue, I turned to the Cerebral Palsy Research Network and engaged with The Adults with Cerebral Palsy Workgroup within the network.

The workgroup features clinicians across specialties (including physiatry, physical therapy, developmental pediatrics, and orthopedics) who have long worked to increase awareness of the many changing needs faced by adults with CP.

I came to them asking, “Where do I start?” Together, we established what we knew, what we thought we knew, and what we needed to learn more about regarding the neurologic care of adults with CP. Along with a talented MD-PhD student at my home institution, Washington University School of Medicine, we conducted a comprehensive systematic review of the available literature on neurologic concerns faced by adults with CP. 

The results were informative but also sobering. Adults with CP have twice the risk of stroke and eight times the risk of myelopathy (spinal cord compression and injury) than adults without CP. A third of adults with CP lose mobility as they age, and the majority suffer from increasing pain and fatigue. These are all concerns that require neurologic surveillance, which, by and large, is not occurring. We also established how much we still need to learn about the neurologic problems faced by adults with CP. As you may have guessed, there is still a lot we do not know. 

Together with my neurologist colleagues, members of the AAN section, and members of the CP Research Network workgroup, we published our findings. Our article, Adults with cerebral palsy require ongoing neurologic care: A systematic review, was printed in this month’s Annals of Neurology, one of the flagship journals in our field.

In the article, we include recommendations for clinicians, researchers, and adults with CP about the kinds of neurologic symptoms to look for and what symptoms we need to learn more about.

We believe that resources of this type are an essential step toward ensuring adult medical practitioners are more aware of the issues facing adults with CP. Our findings highlight the critical need for ongoing neurologic surveillance of adults with CP.

At the least, we hope that including specific recommendations for adults with CP will empower patients to self-advocate until we, as clinicians, can bridge the wider knowledge gap we have regarding their care. 

As word spreads of our recommendations, we have been encouraged by the positive feedback but are eagerly awaiting to see if this changes practice as well. While we are hopeful, we are not naïve. We will keep sounding the alarm until ongoing neurologic surveillance of adults with CP is the norm. 

[If you want to participate in our adult study of personal wellbeing, please join MyCP!]

About Dr Bhooma Aravamuthan

Dr. Aravamuthan is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and pediatric movement disorders specialist in the Cerebral Palsy Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Don’t miss our 2021 MyCP Webinar Series!

Last year, more than 1,000 people logged on for our MyCP webinar series as we came together as a community to discuss cerebral palsy (CP) research. We are thrilled to announce our webinar series will return in 2021 with our first installment, Research CP: Dystonia Edition Results, scheduled for Tuesday, February 9, at 8 p.m. EST. 

Research CP embodies our efforts to engage stakeholders — community members, advocates, clinician and researchers — to set a research agenda that matters to the community.  It began in 2017 with our inaugural effort to establish the top research questions valued by the community. The result was published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology in 2018 and has set the research agenda for the CP Research Network.  In 2019, we launched Research CP: Dystonia Edition. We engaged more 160 people in educational webinars on the topic, community members and clinicians generated a prioritized list of unanswered questions about dystonia in CP

The Research CP: Dystonia Edition Results webinar is the summary of our findings from this initiative to set a patient-centered research agenda for dystonia in CP. It will be presented by CP Research Network Chief Executive Officer Paul Gross, Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil, a pediatric neurologist from St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, Darcy Fehlings, MD, a developmental pediatrician from Holland Bloorview Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Michael Kruer, MD, a pediatric neurologist and neurogeneticist from Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona.

To find out more, please visit our MyCP Webinar Series page and follow the instructions to sign up and secure your Zoom link to the online event. Webinars will also be recorded for later viewing.

Throughout 2021, we will bring you eleven monthly webinars featuring principal investigators from the CP Research Network, sharing concepts, development, and goals from their network research.  We will cover a broad spectrum of CP research ranging from genetics to care of adults with CP. The webinars are available for free to all CPRN community members and clinicians.

We encourage all who have participated in this important ongoing process to attend. We hope to see you there!

Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – older children, adolescents, and adults – part 4

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series. You can ask questions of the author on the MyCP Forum].

In the last post I included links to the guides Fit for Life, Fit for Sport, and exercise and physical activity tips for the younger child. This post will address exercise and physical activity tips for the older child, adolescent, and adult. I wrote them with therapists at Gillette.

  • For all types of exercise, a referral to either a PT or OT is recommended, even for just one or two sessions. There are also wonderful athletic trainers who have advanced training in working with people with physical limitations. Trainers who lack this specialized training, however, may advise overexercising, which can lead to injuries. Consider calling the fitness centers or gyms in your area to check if any of their staff have training in adapting exercise programs for people with physical challenges.
  • If you’re working with weights, consider getting expert guidance on how much weight is safe to work with and how many repetitions to perform.
  • Fast walking can achieve many of the same benefits as running and may be safer for some people.
  • You have many options when it comes to cycling, including outdoor and indoor (static) bikes. Three-wheeled bikes may be ideal for those with balance issues. You can purchase blocks (trainers) to convert an outdoor bike to an indoor bike when the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor mobility.
  • A therapist can offer guidance on the appropriate size and type of sports wheelchair to use and can check to see if you are eligible for any funding aid to purchase one.
  • A few tips for swimming:
    • Consider scheduling a few sessions with a pool PT or OT to develop an appropriate swimming program.
    • If you use a wheelchair, call around to find a pool with PVC pool chairs and a ramp.
    • A pool temperature of 88–94 degrees Fahrenheit can be very therapeutic and can help reduce pain and stiffness.
    • Nonskid pool shoes are recommended for walking from the changing room to the pool and back to avoid falls on wet pool decks.
    • Swim paddles, kickboards, flippers, etc. can be used to increase resistance for muscle strengthening.
  • You can find many excellent videos online to guide you through adaptive yoga, tai chi, and other such programs. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has some.
  • Incorporate as much exercise as you can into the normal day (for example, cycling to school, after-school activities, or work).
  • Most school programs include at least a weekly session of physical education. Try to ensure that the program includes the child or adolescent’s needs as much as possible so that they can participate in the sport, even if this means adapting the rules, the equipment, or the mindset of the teacher or coach. Forcing the child or adolescent to sit out their school physical education period is a missed opportunity both in terms of the benefits of exercise and the camaraderie and social experience of teamwork. Research has shown that school-based exercise programs are beneficial for children and adolescents with CP.

I’m very respectful of the fact that the people who live with physical disability will have other tips. Your comments are very welcome over at MyCP.