Cerebral palsy (CP), the most common major disabling motor disorder of childhood, is frequently thought of as a condition that affects only children. Deaths in children with CP, never common, have in recent years become very rare, unless the child is very severely and multiply disabled. Thus, virtually all children assigned the diagnosis of CP will survive into adulthood. Attention to the adult with CP has been sparse, and the evolution of the motor disorder as the individual moves through adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and old age is not well understood. Nor do we know what happens to other functional domains, such as communication and eating behavior, in adults with CP. Although the brain injury that initially causes CP by definition does not progressively worsen through the lifetime, the effects of CP manifest differently throughout the lifespan. The aging process must inevitably interact with the motor disorder, but we lack systematic, large-scale follow-up studies of children with CP into adulthood and through adulthood with thorough assessments performed over time.
In this paper we summarize what is known of the epidemiology of CP throughout the lifespan, beginning with mortality and life expectancy, then survey what is known of functioning, ability, and quality of life of adults with CP. We conclude by describing a framework for future research on CP and aging that is built around the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) and suggest specific tools and approaches for conducting that research in a sound manner.