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New study finds adults with cerebral palsy 28% more at risk of depression and 40% more at risk of anxiety

  • Research
Jennifer Ryan

A new study, led by researchers from RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and the University of Surrey, has found that adults with cerebral palsy are significantly more at risk for depression and anxiety than adults without cerebral palsy. The study is published in JAMA Neurology.

As part of the first study, published in JAMA Neurology, to examine the incidence of depression and anxiety among adults with cerebral palsy, the researchers used data on 1,705 adults with cerebral palsy and 5,115 adults without cerebral palsy. They found that the risk of depression was 28% higher and the risk of anxiety was 40% higher among adults with cerebral palsy.

When researchers looked at adults who had cerebral palsy but did not have an intellectual disability, the risks increased further. The risk of depression was 44% higher and the risk of anxiety was 55% higher in people with cerebral palsy who did not have an intellectual disability, compared to people without cerebral palsy. Adults with cerebral palsy who also had an intellectual disability did not have a higher risk of depression or anxiety than adults without cerebral palsy.

"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," said Dr Jennifer Ryan, study co-author and StAR Research Lecturer at RCSI.

"Despite historically being considered a paediatric condition, the majority of adults with cerebral palsy live well into adulthood, and many adults with cerebral palsy experience 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."

Cerebral palsy is the most common cause of childhood physical disability worldwide, and has a lifelong impact on the individual and health system. The core feature of cerebral palsy is abnormal motor functioning; however, the severity of motor impairment varies considerably amongst people with cerebral palsy.

Lead author Dr Kimberley Smith, Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: "More needs to be done to understand why those with cerebral palsy have 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."

In addition to RCSI and the University of Surrey, the study included researchers from Brunel University London, Queen Mary University London and the University of Michigan. The research was funded an interdisciplinary award from the Brunel University London Research Catalyst Fund.

RCSI is ranked among the top 250 (top 2%) of universities worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2019) and its research is ranked first in Ireland for citations. It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide. RCSI is a signatory of the Athena SWAN Charter and was awarded Investors in Diversity accreditation in 2018.

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