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What is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 May 2018
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Ataxic cerebral palsy is a congenital disability caused by damage to the cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls motor movement. People with ataxic cerebral palsy have poor muscle control and may need assistance completing daily tasks. There are a number of techniques that can be used to manage cerebral palsy and to help the patient enjoy more independence.

Problems with the development of the brain or injuries to the brain can lead to ataxic cerebral palsy. Sometimes brain development is interrupted and no apparent cause can be identified. In other cases, developmental abnormalities are linked with environmental exposures during pregnancy. Damage can be caused by infection, trauma, and exposure to toxins. The level of damage can vary.

People with ataxic cerebral palsy have low muscle tone, also known as hypotonia. Their coordination tends to be poor. Many have difficulty walking and may have a wide gait that is designed to compensate for feeling unstable. Problems with depth perception can also develop, and as with all forms of cerebral palsy, the patient may have problems that affect the hearing and vision. Intellectual disabilities can also be observed in some people with ataxic cerebral palsy.

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Some patients experience what is known as intention tremor. When they initiate movements, their muscles tremble and they may experience tremors and shaking that make it difficult to complete the movement. This can complicate tasks like writing, buttoning shirts, and eating. There are treatments available for intention tremor including physical therapy and medication. These treatments can increase independence for patients by allowing them to complete daily activities without the need for assistance.

The level of support needed depends on the symptoms experienced. Some people may need relatively little support and assistance. Others may require an aide and may need to use braces, a wheelchair, and other devices for mobility. Tools developed to help people with tremors and movement disorders complete tasks like buttoning shirts and cooking can also be very helpful for some patients.

Around five to 10 percent of people with cerebral palsy have the ataxic form. When people are diagnosed with ataxic cerebral palsy, it can be advisable to consult a specialist who can provide information about current treatments, approaches to cerebral palsy care, clinical studies that may be of interest, and other support. Organizations that help pay for cerebral palsy care can offer financial assistance to families who have difficulty paying for it on their own.

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