Adults with cerebral palsy face a much higher risk of developing depression and anxiety, a new study led by Irish researchers has found.
Cerebral palsy is a term used to refer to a range of complicated conditions that affect movement and posture. It occurs when the brain fails to develop properly or is damaged before birth, during birth or during early childhood.
It is the most common cause of childhood physical disability worldwide and can affect different parts of the body in different ways, such as involuntary jerking movements, problems with balance, difficulties moving limbs and speech impairment.
This new study was led by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), and included other researchers from the UK and the US. It set out to examine the incidence of depression and anxiety in adults with cerebral palsy, using data from 1,705 affected adults and 5,115 unaffected adults.
The researchers found that those with cerebral palsy had a 28% increased risk of developing depression and a 40% increased risk of developing anxiety compared to those without cerebral palsy.
When they looked at adults with cerebral palsy who did not also have an intellectual disability, the risks increased even further - to a 44% increased risk of depression and a 55% increased risk of anxiety.
"These findings support the need to consider cerebral palsy as a lifelong condition and to identify and address mental health problems among people with cerebral palsy alongside physical health problems," commented Dr Jennifer Ryan of the RCSI.
She pointed out that while historically, cerebral palsy has been considered a paediatric condition, the majority of people with it live well into adulthood, with many of these experiencing a worsening of impairments, including a decline in mobility.
"We hope that the findings of the study will help accelerate a response to adults with cerebral palsy who report inadequate provision of coordinated health services worldwide," Dr Ryan said.
According to the study's lead author, Dr Kimberley Smith of the University of Surrey, more needs to be done to understand why those with cerebral palsy face a greater risk of developing depression and anxiety.
"People with cerebral palsy face unique challenges as they age, which could be linked with this increased risk of developing anxiety and depression. This study has allowed us to define the issue; the next step will be to better understand why it happens so we can develop targeted mental health interventions for this population," she added.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, JAMA Neurology.