How Does Cerebral Palsy Affect Nutrition?
Children with cerebral palsy often have difficulty with feeding. This is due to issues with the muscles responsible for chewing and swallowing.
Many children with cerebral palsy suffer from:
- Oral-motor dysfunction
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Chronic constipation
- Abdominal pain
- Swallowing disorders
These problems can all lead to a lack of feeding, and they ultimately result in malnourishment. Other cerebral palsy symptoms that can lead to malnourishment include vomiting, diarrhea, chronic pulmonary aspiration and pneumonia.
If a child with cerebral palsy feels pain or discomfort during or after eating, they may be less likely to eat. When children do not receive the right amount of calories, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, they can become malnourished. If left untreated, nutritional issues can cause health complications down the line.
Malnourishment can lead to serious problems. Malnourished children may constantly feel cold and lose muscle mass and body tissue. Over time, their skin may become dry and pale. Malnourished children also tend to get sick at higher rates. They also take longer to heal from wounds and illnesses, and they may experience respiratory failure.
These health complications are serious, and severe cases of malnourishment can lead to death. If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it is important to check with your medical provider to ensure they are receiving the necessary nutrition to remain healthy.
How To Provide Proper Nutrition
It is important to work with a medical professional to come up with a dietary plan specific to your child.
As a baseline, parents should observe the following guidelines:
- Promote a high-fiber, low fat diet to avoid constipation.
- Provide a well-balanced diet consisting of meats, cheeses, beans, potatoes, whole grains, green vegetables, oils, fruits and plenty of fluids.
- Substitute with juices or smoothies for healthy calories and vitamins when solid foods are not possible.
Unfortunately, certain medications for cerebral palsy may impact your child’s nutritional intake. For example, medications administered to prevent seizures may decrease the availability of vitamins D and K and decrease serum calcium, magnesium, folate and vitamins B6, B12 and C. This can lead to weight problems, stunted growth, gastroesophageal reflux, chronic respiratory infections, constipation and pressure ulcers.
A doctor can run blood tests to determine if your child is deficient in key vitamins and minerals. They can then advise you to which specific foods can supply a remedy. Doctors may also prescribe dietary supplements or vitamins to help children with cerebral palsy get the nutrition that they need.
Children with cerebral palsy may require additional nutrition because of muscle or bone weakness. Weak bones are a particularly worrisome problem, as children with weak bones are more likely to suffer fractures or bone breaks.
Doctors often prescribe dietary supplements to help strengthen bones. Sometimes these supplements come in pill form, but the underlying vitamins and minerals can also be obtained through other means.
Here are the nutrients essential to maintaining strong bones:
- Calcium: Calcium can be taken in pill form or obtained from milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D can be taken in pill form or obtained from fish, milk and orange juice. Exposure to sunlight can also help the body produce vitamin D.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is a key mineral for strong teeth and bones. It can be obtained through the consumption of dairy products or whole grains. It can also be taken in pill form.
If you believe that your child is in need of dietary supplements, check with your medical provider to see if there is a specific regimen that should be followed.
In severe cases of malnourishment, or when children with cerebral palsy have continuous issues feeding themselves, a feeding tube may be recommended. Feeding tubes can be used to deliver vitamins, minerals, medications or other nutrients. If your child’s caloric intake is limited due to an inability to feed themselves, or if they are having problems gaining weight, a feeding tube may be considered.
There are several different types of feeding tubes, ranging in scope and duration. For example, Mic-Key tubes are balloon like devices that can last from 3 to 6 months. Peg Tubes can last anywhere from 1 to 2 years. The feeding tube itself is inserted in a surgical procedure known as a gastrostomy. Typically, the tube is installed through the nose leading into the stomach or directly into the stomach wall itself.
Managing Cerebral Palsy Through Nutrition
Cerebral palsy can directly impact nutrition because the condition often adversely impacts the muscles necessary for chewing and swallowing. The condition can also require certain medications which make children lose their appetite or interest in food or water.
It is important to have a physician evaluate your child to determine what their nutritional needs are and how your family can meet them. This may require dietary supplements or additional doctor’s visits to ensure that your child is receiving the nutrition needed to stay healthy.
If your child’s case of cerebral palsy was caused by medical malpractice, then you may be eligible for financial compensation that can pay for your child’s medical care and nutritional needs.