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Well-Being of Ambulatory Adults With Cerebral Palsy: Education, Employment, and Physical Function of a Cohort Who Received Specialized Pediatric Care

  • Shrader, M. Wade
  • Church, Chris
  • Lennon, Nancy
  • Shields, Thomas
  • Salazar-Torres, Jose J.
  • Howard, Jason J.
  • Miller, Freeman
Published Article
Frontiers in Neurology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
Sep 20, 2021
DOI: 10.3389/fneur.2021.732906
PMID: 34616355
PMCID: PMC8488089
PubMed Central
  • Neurology
  • Original Research


Introduction: The transition from pediatric health care and school systems presents enormous challenges for young adults with cerebral palsy (CP). The lack of strong societal support during this seminal life event is well-documented and leads many adults with CP to struggle with independence, higher education, and employment. Despite the relatively high prevalence of CP, information about the experiences and function of adults with CP in our society continues to be limited. The purpose of this project was to describe well-being by assessing education, employment, physical function, walking activity, and utilization of health care in an ambulatory adult cohort with CP who received specialized pediatric care at our center. Method: In this Institutional Review Board-approved prospective study, we invited former patients from our tertiary care pediatric CP center to complete a set of patient-reported outcomes including (1) the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System domains of physical function and pain interference, (2) the Satisfaction with Life Scale, and a project-specific demographic questionnaire about education, employment, income, independence, pain, and health care utilization. Participants also wore a pedometer for 8 days to monitor community walking activity. Chi-squared pairwise or t -tests were used as appropriate to compare survey responses and walking activity data between three groups: participants who self-reported, those who reported by proxy, and published normative data from age-matched typically developing adult (TDA) samples. Results: One hundred twenty-six adults with CP consented to participate; 85 self-reported [age 29.7 ± 4.3 years; Gross Motor Function Classification System: I (28%), II (47%), and III, (25%)] and 41 reported by proxy [age 29.7 ± 4.1 years; Gross Motor Function Classification System: I (10%), II (68%), and III (22%)]. For the group who self-reported, high school graduation rate (99%) was similar to TDA (92%; p = 0.0173) but bachelor's degree achievement rate (55%) was higher than TDA (37%; p < 0.001). Despite more advanced education, the unemployment rate in this group was higher than national levels at 33% and was associated with high utilization of Social Security Disability Insurance (33%). Within the self-reporting group, 13% required a caregiver. For the group who reported by proxy, educational levels (73% high school graduates, 0 bachelor's degree) were lower than the general population ( p < 0.001) and unemployment was higher than the national level, at 64%. Unemployment in this group was associated with high utilization of Social Security Disability Insurance (85%). Within the proxy-reporting group, 71% required a caregiver. The full cohort demonstrated lower levels of physical function according to the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System and less community walking activity compared with TDA references ( p < 0.001). This cohort of adults with CP reported significantly higher frequency of chronic pain (48 vs. 12% for TDA; p < 0.001), but less pain interference with daily activities than TDA based on Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System results ( p < 0.001). This cohort reported good to excellent overall health (93%) and high utilization of primary care (98%), but limited utilization of specialty care, specifically orthopedic care (21%) and physical therapy (15%). Discussion: This cohort of adults with CP had similar levels of education as the general population, but had relatively high rates of unemployment, caretaker need, and Social Security Disability Insurance utilization. Although chronic pain was frequent, the impact of pain on work and independent living did not exceed reports from a typically developing reference. Better targeted societal resources for adults with physical disabilities are urgently needed to allow equitable access to employment, promote opportunities for independence, and enable full participation in community life.

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