Researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute analysed data from the Victorian Cerebral Palsy Register, and found that the decline in rates of cerebral palsy was evident across infants born at all stages of birth gestation, including infants born as early as 27 weeks. Together with the decline in overall cerebral palsy rates, there was also a shift over time to children diagnosed with less severe physical impairment.
Researchers looked at data from individuals born with cerebral palsy born between 1983 and 2009 and found that during that time, nearly 3000 children were diagnosed with the condition. They found that more males (57%) were diagnosed with cerebral palsy than females (43%).
Due to an increase in survival of very premature infants, the rates of cerebral palsy in Victoria rose throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, but the new study has shown that the rates have declined over the latter half of the decade and in to the 2000s. According to study lead author, Dr Sue Reid, this provides evidence of the effectiveness of strategies aimed at protecting the brain from injury and continual innovation in management of premature or sick newborns.
“Therapeutic hypothermia, the deliberate reduction of the core body temperature, is one strategy that has been used more recently for full term newborns with brain injury. This treatment was trialled in Victoria during the early 2000s and has now become embedded into normal clinical practice throughout Australia,” said Dr Reid, a Senior Research Officer at Murdoch Children's and Manager of the Victorian Cerebral Palsy Register.
“In addition, improvements in resuscitation techniques and provision of neonatal intensive care have contributed to a reduction in the incidence of brain injury leading to cerebral palsy in premature infants.”
Cerebral palsy is the descriptive term for an ongoing problem with body movements or postures as a result of brain maldevelopment or injury occurring before, during or soon after birth. There is currently no single, universally accepted system for classifying the overall severity of cerebral palsy. As well as impairments of movement, other impairments that may be associated with cerebral palsy include epilepsy, blindness, deafness and intellectual impairment.
The Victorian Cerebral Palsy Register collects information on people with cerebral palsy, born or living in Victoria since 1970.
The Register was founded in 1987 by Professor Dinah Reddihough of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne and is now one of the largest geographically-defined cerebral palsy registers in the world, holding information on over 5300 individuals.
The Register forms part of a national collaboration of cerebral palsy registers, the Australian Cerebral Palsy Register Group which is hosted by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance in New South Wales.