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How Long Will a Child with Cerebral Palsy Live?

Cerebral palsy caused by a doctor’s mistake of inattention can have a devastating impact on a child and the child’s family. Lots of insults are added to that injury in cerebral palsy lawsuits.

One cruel argument the doctors often make in these cases is that the child’s lifespan is short, so they should not be required to pay as much money. So they are that if they screwed up and denied this child and their family the opportunity of a normal life, the defendant should not have to pay so much because my negligence will cause that child to die pretty soon. If the defendant is wrong and lives longer, that is just a cost you must endure, doctors and hospitals argue.  It is, to put it mildly, a maddening argument.

Providing a definitive life expectancy for children with cerebral palsy is challenging due to the wide variability in the condition’s presentation. Some children may have a life expectancy similar to their typically developing peers, while others might experience a shorter life span due to complications or coexisting conditions. Still, the reality for many children with cerebral palsy is an average or near-normal life expectancy with appropriate medical care and support.

Life Expectancy for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Life expectancy is reduced in some patients with cerebral palsy. Yet, many children with CP have normal expected life spans. Adults with severe cerebral palsy live typical life spans throughout this country.

There is also no question that mortality rates in children with cerebral palsy have dropped dramatically in the last 30 years. Defense lawyers like to rely on old studies involving patients that were followed even longer ago.

It is also hard to ignore that many of the studies done on cerebral palsy life expectancy are done by doctors who, not so coincidentally, serve as defense experts in CP cases. So many of these lifespan studies seem written for litigation.

The best predictors of mortality were (1) deficits in cognitive function, (2) limitations on mobility, (3) incontinence, and (4) inability to eat without assistance. The first two are critical. Profound intellectual disability and severity of physical impairment had the most pronounced impact on life expectancy.

Other predictors of cerebral palsy lifespan expectancy include:

  • Coexisting Conditions: Many children with cerebral palsy have coexisting conditions, such as intellectual disabilities, epilepsy, or sensory impairments. The presence and management of these conditions can affect quality of life and lifespan.
  • Access to Medical Care: Timely and appropriate medical care, therapies, and interventions play a crucial role in improving health outcomes and potentially extending life expectancy.
  • Nutrition and Well-being: Ensuring proper nutrition, hydration, and overall well-being is important for children with cerebral palsy. Adequate support in these areas can positively impact growth and overall health.
  • Family and Social Support: A supportive environment, including family, caregivers, and community, can contribute to a child’s well-being and life expectancy.  Good families get, on average, better outcomes.

Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy

Our lawyers see a good number of spastic diplegic cerebral palsy claims.  Life expectancy for individuals with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, like any other type of CP, can vary widely and is influenced by several factors including the severity of the condition, access to medical care, and any associated health issues.

But, in general, many individuals with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy thankfully live into adulthood and have a near-normal life expectancy. Advances in medical treatments, therapies, and supportive interventions have improved the quality of life and lifespan for people with this condition and the older data showing a shorter life expectancy really does not apply in 2023.

 Deaths Change Average Not Median Lifespan

Life expectancy is calculated based on the average survival time of a group of individuals. If a few individuals with CP, especially those with severe impairments, die prematurely, it can significantly lower the overall life expectancy for the CP population. Life expectancy takes into account the total number of years lived by the group, and if a few individuals die at a young age, it reduces the average.

Said differently, survival curves show the probability of individuals surviving at various ages. A few deaths can cause abrupt changes in these curves, especially when they occur in specific age groups or birth cohorts. For example, if a cluster of deaths occurs in childhood or early adulthood, it can lead to a steep decline in the survival curve for those age ranges.

So, if you are looking at ten children, and one of those children dies in childhood, it traumatically changes the average life expectancy of that group. Defense lawyers exploit this and grab onto studies that show that CP victims have a shorter lifespan.

Quality of Care Matters

Child During Delivery Settlements and verdicts in cerebral palsy cases are often substantial. This defense argument underscores why they need to be as large as they are. Money matters when raising a child with CP. Cerebral palsy patients’ survival rate increases dramatically based on the quality of care received.

Many studies confirm that life expectancy is partly driven by the quality of care or living situation. Many victims of CP either bring unsuccessful lawsuits because they cannot prove the doctor’s negligence caused CP or their birth injury was not caused by negligence.

So they do not have the resources to provide optimal care. This leads to a shorter lifespan. Just monetary compensation can make a difference in life expectancy.

Cerebral Palsy Lifespan Literature

Here are some of the key articles on cerebral palsy lifespan:

Survival and Mortality in Cerebral Palsy (2019)

The article titled “Survival and mortality in cerebral palsy: observations to the sixth decade from a data linkage study of a total population register and National Death Index” was published in BMC Neurology in 2019 by authors Eve Blair, Katherine Langdon, Sarah McIntyre, David Lawrence, and Linda Watson. The study aims to investigate survival and mortality patterns among individuals with cerebral palsy (CP) into their sixth decade of life. The research is based on a population registered in Western Australia, but its findings also apply to us.

The study employs data from the Western Australian Register of Developmental Anomalies (WARDA), which covers individuals with CP born in Western Australia from 1956 to 2011. These individuals were linked to the Australian National Death Index to analyze mortality patterns.

The findings indicate that among the study’s participants, 22% with mild impairments had similar survival patterns to the general population up to the age of 58. However, mortality rates increased, as you would expect, with the severity of impairment. The leading cause of death, accounting for 58.6% of cases, was respiratory issues, with pneumonia being a significant contributor.   This also ties in with quality of care because pneumonia is more manageable with the best medical care.

The study highlights the need for improved management of chronic respiratory diseases because that is where so much of the risk for these children lies, which is not something every doctor caring for cerebral palsy patients appreciates.

Life Expectancy in Severe Cerebral Palsy (2006)

The article titled “Life Expectancy in Severe Cerebral Palsy,” published in the journal “Archives of Disease in Childhood” in March 2006 by J. L. Hutton and P. O. D. Pharoah, delves into the complex issues surrounding estimating the life expectancy of individuals with severe cerebral palsy (CP). The authors emphasize the medico-legal implications of CP and its impact on financial provisions in litigation cases. They highlight the need for rigorous data analysis and actuarial methods to arrive at valid survival estimates for people with CP.

The study addresses the challenges in estimating survival probabilities for individuals with CP, given the diversity of the condition and its complex manifestations. To accurately predict survival, data quality and estimation methods are crucial. The authors argue that clinical experience alone may lead to inaccurate predictions and emphasize the importance of numerical data for valid analysis.

The article discusses the significance of functional disability in determining survival outcomes. The study analyzes cognitive, motor (manual and ambulatory), and sensory (vision and hearing) disabilities as survival factors. It points out that severe cognitive, motor, and visual disabilities independently influence the probability of survival. Interestingly, severe hearing disability does not provide additional survival information when combined with other functional disabilities.

The authors underscore the need for standardized definitions and classifications for CP severity. They stress that excluding syndromes with progressive cerebral impairment is essential for accurate survival estimates. Furthermore, the study highlights the importance of confirmation of CP diagnosis in infancy and distinguishing severe from profound disability.

The article also delves into the quality of life for individuals with severe CP. The Lifestyle Assessment Score (LAS) is discussed as a tool to assess the impact of CP on children and their families. The study reveals that while severe disabilities are associated with higher LAS scores, half of those with severe disabilities still have LAS scores, indicating a moderate impact.

The study concludes by emphasizing the critical need for clinical and actuarial skills when estimating survival in CP cases. It underscores the importance of valid databases, precise definitions, and rigorous calculations. The authors acknowledge the challenges of missing data, assumptions about risk factors, and varying interpretations of disability severity.

This is a good and often-cited study.  One of the problems with it is that it seems written with an eye toward how this impacts cerebral palsy lawsuits, which diminishes its credibility because it sometimes feels written from a defense lawyer’s perspective.

Hiring a Cerebral Palsy Attorney

Miller & Zois handles catastrophic injury medical malpractice cases under a contingency fee agreement. What does this mean to you? This means we never ask you for money out of your pocket for legal fees or expenses. We only receive an attorneys’ fee if we get money damages for you and your child. If, for some reason we lose the case, there are no fees or expenses incurred by you.

Call us today at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation. Our lawyers have had a history of success, and we will fight for you and your child every single step of the way.

Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits

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