Assistive Devices for Cerebral Palsy Patients

Image: Assistive devices for a cerebral palsy patient

2019 Jul 12

People who suffer from cerebral palsy, experience a permanent movement disorder. Apart from this motor disability, they may also have some impairments in their hearing and visual capabilities, and even some intellectual or other developmental challenges.

The use of assistive devices is vital to help them perform routine activities, navigate the world, enhance their learning and reach their functional potential with the tools that the modern world provides.

This article summarizes some of the most usual and useful tools that they may encounter and use by themselves.

Which are the benefits of using assistive devices for cerebral palsy patients?

When you think, observe, ask and read about it, you find that the number of benefits that a person with cerebral palsy can obtain from using assistive devices is huge.

Here is a list of them:

  • Enhance independence and mobility
  • Engage in routine daily activities
  • Express needs and thoughts, interact and build relationships with others
  • See and hear more accurately
  • Increased understanding
  • Participate more in classrooms, at work, at home, in society
  • Improve confidence, self-sufficiency and, eventually, quality of life
  • Improve educational outcomes
  • Control their environment
  • Support for caregivers
  • Occupational gains, employment
  • More inclusion in recreative and intellectual activities
  • Increased opportunities to enjoy life, people, culture and nature

Which Types of Assistive Devices Are There for Cerebral Palsy Patients?

Modern technology is able to provide help in an increasing number of life situations. The offer is bigger, cheaper and more versatile everyday. Here are some of the most prominent examples:

Mobility Assistive Devices

Cerebral palsy patients usually have big problems moving around. The may lack control of their motor skills and may be unable to walk or even stand by themselves. For these situations there are a number of mobility aids that may be appropriate for everyone ranging from special footwear, orthotics, walkers, canes and crutches to wheelchairs (electric or non-electric) or even scooters for disabled persons.

Communication Assistive Devices

Cerebral palsy may affect the ability to control the muscles in the mouth and throat to pronounce words, and also of hands and arms to write or type. In these cases, there are communication assistive devices to help them express their needs and thoughts.

There are a number of very low-tech solutions, but the widespread adoption of digital mobile technologies like smartphones and tablets have made these devices the usual choice as tools for communication.

From lowest to highest tech solutions, we can find nowadays writing and typing aids (pen and pencil grips, weighted pen or pencil, slanted writing board), picture books, electronic communication boards and speaking machines for disabled people.

Special software can turn any mainstream electronic device (PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone) in a communication device: communication boards and speech generation apps can be run on almost any electronic device nowadays.

To access these devices, cerebral palsy users can use a keyboard, a mouse or a joystick if they have sufficient motor skills.

If not, there are other alternatives:

  • Adaptive keyboards, with larger keys or other facilitators for easier typing.
  • Switches that can be pushed with any part of the body (hand, cheek, forehead, neck). They need to be paired with special SW (like that of Mouse4all) that allows to navigate a device one tap at a time. This a cheap and very intuitive solution for cerebral palsy users.
  • Eye-tracking devices, which allow the user to operate them by looking at icons, words or pictures displayed in the device. This is a very good solution, but it is also more expensive than the former ones.

For more details on these alternative input methods, you can also check our entry about input devices for disabled computer users.

Vision and Hearing Assistive Devices

It is thought that 10-20% of children affected by cerebral palsy experience some level of hearing loss or limitation. This is a big impediment to understand the people around them and communicate with the world.

Again, there are solutions in the realm of assistive devices to help them. For hearing problems, the next technology devices should be checked: cochlear implants, hearing aids and telephone apps that amplify or translate voices into text. For vision impairments there are glasses, magnifiers or computer software to enlarge text and images.

Environmental and Home Control Assistive Devices

Even with reduced mobility, persons with cerebral palsy can take actions by themselves to have a more comfortable life at home.

There are assistive devices that can help cerebral palsy patients do things like turn on and off lights, television or other appliances. This can be done remotely, operating a touchpad, a keyboard or a mobile device by hand or using any of the alternative input methods discussed in the Communication Assistive Devices chapter above.

Assistive Devices for Routine Tasks

Routine activities are probably those that all of us do more frequently. Although small in many cases, they require to accomplish tasks that may be very difficult for a person with mobility issues. For many of them, there are also assistive devices, very low-tech in most cases, that help bring normality to the lives of cerebral palsy patients.

They are, probably, the tools that most contribute to a good quality of life for them.

Some environments and the tolls that have been devised to help are the following:

  • Bath: custom toilet seats, safety bars, bathing benches, sponges and brushes wih longer handles.
  • Kitchen: weighted eating utensils, non-slip plates and bowls.
  • Bedroom: safety mats, pull-out tables, positioning devices, dressing aids.
  • Classroom: adaptive scissors, writing and typing aids, specialized art supplies, adaptive sports equipment.