Patient, parent, outside, walking

The goals of researchers studying children with cerebral palsy include improving walking and physical activity through measurements such as step monitors, energy consumption and self-reporting of day-to-day activity.

Limitation in walking skills and physical activity are the hallmarks of cerebral palsy (CP). Moderate-to-severely impaired youth with CP are also reported to have reduced physical health, as well as pain and fatigue. Lower quality of life has been documented for adolescents with a broad spectrum of disabilities as compared to non-disabled youth. All of these - diminished physical health, pain and fatigue, and lower quality of life - are aspects of CP that researchers at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development hope to find ways to quantify in our efforts to improve the overall health of these patients.

Current therapies for the walking limitations associated with CP focus mainly on treating impairments such as spasticity, strength and musculoskeletal deformity. The desired goal is to improve walking activity and, as a result, overall health status and quality of life. Therapists and physicians use tests of motor skills to measure the outcomes of treatments. Yet these are truly only measures of a youth's "capacity" to complete a task in a structured environment. They do not sample actual activity (performance) in their day-to-day lives. Presently, there is no documentation of ambulatory activity level - or the walking "performance" of youth with CP - in the context of everyday life. We are currently working to gather this type of information with a device that children wear on their ankles. One project is exploring the ability of this device to predict energy expenditure while walking. Another project is documenting ambulatory activity capacity and performance, child- and parent-reported health status, and quality of life of youth with CP compared to typically developing youth. In another project, we are exploring how to measure issues related to fatigue and pain in children and youth with CP.

Current active projects include:

  • Measurement of day-to-day walking activity
  • Energy expended to walk or be physically active
  • The relationship of fatigue and pain to daily physical activity
  • Impact of orthotics on day-to-day activity and participation