When I was in pediatric training, I was told that a firm diagnosis for a baby with cerebral palsy could be determined by age 2-3 years. Children may continue to improve a bit, but the common wisdom was that new motor skill acquisition would taper out between 8-10 years. It was, and in many places still is, taught that all children would gain weight and lose function as they grew through puberty. If that was not bad enough, in recent years there has been an increasing attention to “early” aging in the cerebral palsy population and in many other groups with an early neurological problem.
I first heard of the concept of “early aging” in people with post polio syndrome when I ran the Magee Clinic in Toronto between 1989 and 1996. At the time, it was thought to represent a re-activation of the old polio virus and hundreds of thousands of research dollars went into the search for the virus. All to no avail. The virus had not reactivated, the patients bodies had just worn out. Years of damage, caused by poor biomechanics, gradually limited movement. In many, weight gain added to the burden on their bodies. Chronic musculoskeletal pain compounded the problems that we all encounter as we age. I now see the same story playing out in people with other disabilities. Fortunately, In the majority of older individuals, many of the problems can be addressed and I believe they can be avoided by following the same advice at a younger age.
“Just Do It” is a tag line popularized by Nike and adopted by many advocates of daily exercise. Human bodies just work better and last longer with regular exercise. This fact has been proven, over and over again. Having a neurological problem does not cancel out this reality. In the world of adult rehabilitation, there are many studies that have demonstrated significant improvement in function in a wide variety of progressive neurological problems like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Significant improvement in an exercise program as short as 8-12 weeks! I have developed a Water Program for people with movement problems and it is available free of charge on this site. Water is a good starting point for most people as it is a gravity free environment that cancels out many of the biomechanical problems that limits people. With a Wet Vest, available from HydroFit, it is relatively easy to get moving. The links at the end of this post are about Christine’s journey to improved function. The first change she noted was improved cardiovascular fitness and breath control. She is the director of and actor in Actors Without Boundaries, a year-round theater program outside of Philadelphia, PA for children, teenagers and young adults with physical disabilities.
Exercise for your health is not a priority for most adults with an early neurological problem. In this way they really are no different than the majority of North American adults. I have seen the remarkable changes that are possible if the individual is willing to take on the challenge. It is harder for people with a movement problem, but still possible for most. I will be writing about others who have changed their functional level and they will also tell their stories. I hope you will share yours. Most people with an early neurological diagnosis have been told for most of their lives what they cannot do. It is time to put a spotlight on what can be accomplished with current treatments and technologies.