Cerebral Palsy in Adults: Symptoms, Challenges, and Guidance for Caregivers

Medically Reviewed By Susan W. Lee, DO
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Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological conditions that limit movement, balance, and muscle coordination. Symptoms appear in infancy or early childhood, but complications may arise during adulthood. A person with cerebral palsy may develop arthritis, premature aging, depression, and swallowing difficulties.  This article explains the symptoms of cerebral palsy in adults. It discusses the challenges someone may face as they transition into adulthood and the care they may require.

What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy in adults?

Adult male in a wheelchair shopping for fruit
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Adults can have mild to severe cerebral palsy symptoms. 

Mild cerebral palsy symptoms in adults

Common mild symptoms of cerebral palsy in adults include:

Severe cerebral palsy symptoms in adults

Cerebral palsy can also cause complications or severe symptoms. These include:

Risk factors for respiratory issues include:

  • persistent chest infections
  • aspiration pneumonia, when food or fluid gets into the lungs and causes swelling
  • reduced saliva control
  • a misaligned spine

Read more about cerebral palsy.

What are some common challenges for adults with cerebral palsy?

Adults with cerebral palsy may face several challenges.

Premature aging

Cerebral palsy adds extra strain to the body. People with cerebral palsy are highly likely to experience premature aging by the time they turn 40.

Extra pressure on misaligned joints increases the risk of osteoporosis. This is a condition in which the bones weaken and are more prone to breakage. 

As a result, people with cerebral palsy use more energy to perform everyday tasks than people without the condition use. 

Mental health conditions

Mental health conditions, such as depression, are common among adults with cerebral palsy. Depression mostly appears as a result of the health-related risks associated with cerebral palsy. These risks include multimorbidity, which is a combination of multiple chronic conditions that can make treatment more difficult. Risks also include increased pain and functional limitations.

A 2017 study finds that out of 501 adults with cerebral palsy, 20% of them experienced depression. Researchers also found that the participants had gastrointestinal problems and used pain medications. 


Cerebral palsy can cause mobility problems. Excessive joint compression can lead to early onset arthritis, which can limit movement and reduce strength. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that some types of cerebral palsy can cause uncontrollable movements and muscle stiffness or tightness. 

Swallowing and feeding difficulty

People with cerebral palsy may have swallowing difficulties. They may have issues swallowing some foods or not be able to swallow at all. 

This can cause:

  • coughing when eating
  • a sensation that something is stuck in the throat
  • a wet-sounding voice when eating
  • drooling 

If you do not seek medical care, the situation can be life threatening because food can block the airways. 

How can parents and caregivers help children with cerebral palsy transition to adulthood?

The Cerebral Palsy Research Network provides information for parents and caregivers to help children with cerebral palsy transition to adulthood. 

For example, CP Research Network suggests looking for a new doctor before an adolescent turns 18. This allows for time to contact different healthcare professionals and find one who specializes in managing cerebral palsy symptoms. 

You may also wish to consider college preparation resources. Some colleges offer free education to those with health problems. Discuss with other caregivers and educators whether there are areas that an individual with cerebral palsy can access. Check for ramps, working elevators, and accessible transportation.

As for employment, completing job tasks can be challenging for someone with cerebral palsy. Parents and caregivers can have their children help perform household chores. This helps them become more independent as they reach adulthood. 

You may consider checking for internships where an adolescent can gain work experience and improve their confidence.

How does cerebral palsy affect someone’s ability to work?

Work-related challenges can arise for those who have cerebral palsy. Physical, vision, or hearing problems can make it difficult to find a job that suits their needs. 

These types of health issues can cause a high rate of unemployment for individuals with cerebral palsy, even though they may hold all the required qualifications.

Employers may believe that it can be costly to introduce new tools or work spaces to help those with cerebral palsy perform tasks. 

However, there are ways to overcome some of these employment challenges. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps protect you from discrimination and offers assistance if you need it. Also, the rise in remote employment positions may provide an easier avenue for employment.

What type of care do adults with cerebral palsy need?

Early intervention helps young individuals manage symptoms and learn about complications that can arise later.

Doctors may suggest the following options to help individuals live with cerebral palsy:

  • Physiotherapy: This can help individuals gain muscle strength and improve movement. They may also require a walking frame or stick. 
  • Recreational therapy: Children may participate in events such as art and cultural programs. These can help improve their physical and cognitive abilities as well as their self-esteem. 
  • Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help improve posture and mobility so as to perform tasks such as dressing. 
  • Feeding tube: For those with severe swallowing difficulties, a physician may recommend a feeding tube. This may be a nasogastric tube, which passes through the nose to the stomach, or a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube, which is implanted into the stomach. However, a PEG tube can cause infections and blockage. 
  • Medications: These include diazepam, tizanidine, or baclofen, which help reduce muscle stiffness. 

Other frequently asked questions

Here are questions people also ask about cerebral palsy in adulthood. Susan W. Lee, D.O., has reviewed them.

Can adults get cerebral palsy later in life?

Cerebral palsy is the result of abnormalities that occur during fetal or infant brain development. Therefore, adults do not develop cerebral palsy. Children usually receive a diagnosis by the time they turn 2. As they grow, the condition causes new challenges. 

Does cerebral palsy get worse as you age?

Cerebral palsy is nonprogressive. This means that the underlying cause of cerebral palsy does not change as you age. However, without the right treatment and management, cerebral palsy can cause complications. Movement function can worsen as well. 

What is the life expectancy for adults with cerebral palsy?

The life expectancy of people with cerebral palsy varies. Most children with cerebral palsy survive to adulthood. However, life expectancy tends to be lower than that of the general population and depends on the severity of the condition.


Cerebral palsy symptoms develop in early childhood and reduce a person’s ability to move and perform tasks on their own. 

New challenges and complications can appear during adulthood. These can include mental health conditions, arthritis, and swallowing difficulties. Adults with cerebral palsy may also experience worsening mobility issues.

Individuals may also have difficulty finding employment or a college program that assists those with cerebral palsy. 

It is possible to manage symptoms of cerebral palsy. Doctors may prescribe medications or suggest attending physiotherapy or occupational therapy sessions. 

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Medical Reviewer: Susan W. Lee, DO
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 24
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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