Recent technology has drastically increased the power of treatments and therapies for children with cerebral palsy. Previous research focused treatment on the muscular and skeletal systems of the body, aiming to increase range of motion and motor function in general. However, new data suggests that treatments are available that improve these areas as well as overall body and mental development. Modern medical research into the area of neuroplasticity is arguably one of the most promising areas of research for treating children with cerebral palsy.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity describes how the brain can adapt to dramatic changes or injuries. Your brain works with a network of over 100 billion neurons that are nearly all connected with one another. Imagine a highway filled with cars; if an accident occurs on the road, the cars in the lane of the accident can merge into a new lane to continue onto their destination. The brain can behave similarly – damage to brain pathways can instruct brain neurons to reroute and create new pathways.
New research in this area can wield promising results for children with cerebral palsy. When damage to the brain results in cerebral palsy, there is a chance that the brain will form a new pathway, which can circumvent the damage and restore functionality to the affected area. This is more likely to happen in milder cases of cerebral palsy, but it is not entirely out of the question for severe cases (though it may take longer to occur). Activities such as exercise, education, interacting with others and cognitive remediation can increase the likelihood of these new pathways being formed. On the other hand, loss of sleep, bad nutrition and anxiety can serve to hinder their development.
Exercise is good for the brain
We all know physical activity is good for our bodies, but it can be good for our minds, as well. An article published in 2008, exercise can improve mood, cognition, processing and learning capability. However, such activity shouldn’t be strenuous – intensive physical activity might cause more stress and tension than it relieves. Nevertheless, exercise has shown to be one of the best activities for rebuilding brain connections.
There are many ways you can step in to help your child get the most out of physical activities. Keeping the activity consistent and routine ensures that progress is being made. This can be much easier to achieve if you have a specific therapist to work with during each session. Aside from physical therapy sessions, consider incorporating physical activity into your child’s playtime. If you can, take part in these activities – swing your child from a swing set or do some exercise with them to encourage them to continue.
Once your child with cerebral palsy is of age to attend school, they will likely take part in physical education. Talk to your child’s instructor and make sure you understand what the class curriculum will be. You’ll also want the instructor to know the severity of your child’s condition so that they take it into account when devising the day’s activities. If possible, see if the instructor can create an alternative program tailored to your child’s needs. Once the school season is over, consider encouraging your child to take part in an after-school exercise program.