Cerebral Palsy & the Winter Challenges

Published February 18, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics are currently underway in Pyongyang, South Korea. The GB team are hoping for a record number of gold medals, five, to be exact. However, serious weather conditions are threatening to disrupt a number of sporting events. In short, South Korea have adopted Britain’s attitude to snow by cancelling everything. We all hope the GB team continue the great work from London 2012 and Rio 2016 to continue to break records and have the best ever winter Olympic Games.

When I read this story, it got me thinking of how much the cold weather can affect me and daily life and how I could and should do more things to stop this from happening. As you all know by now, I have cerebral palsy, you should do, and I’ve said it at least twice in every blog I’ve written. It is probably the only interesting things about me…. I’m fairly certain however, not many of you are aware of how cold temperatures can negatively affect people with Cerebral Palsy, particularly in movement and function.

First things first, what is cerebral palsy? Before I give the answer, I want to deviate a little if you would allow. I’m sure a few would assume that I would know the answer. That I would go out my way to find out everything there is to know about the condition and also find out the best ways to treat them. But the sad fact is I don’t really know. This is the first time I have spent time and looked more in depth about cerebral palsy the symptoms and the effects it can have on a person. Of course, I know some of them because I experience them first-hand but I can’t really tell you why taken me this long to start. Maybe, I was afraid? I don’t know. But, I’m glad.

Anyhow, back to the subject at hand. The answer to what is cerebral palsy. “Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and posture”.

There are many different types of cerebral palsy that affect different parts of body at different levels of severity. If you wish to know more, click here.

The key things to take away from this paragraph are the last five words, “Control movement, balance and posture”. People with CP, regardless of severity all struggle with this and there are different side-effects that come along with this and are exacerbated with a long spurt of cold weather.

These first few examples are issues that I contend with when there is usually a large spout of cold weather and there are also not necessarily only exclusive to cerebral palsy. They can also affect other muscle limiting conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy, or MS (Multiple Sclerosis).

  1. Poor circulation within the body

I suffer with this problem a lot, due to the fact that I am a full-time wheelchair user, I have limited opportunity to move and stay in one position for most of the day. The most effected part is surprise, surprise my feet which are 90% cold because they have nothing to do. I combat this by wearing my trusted pair of old man slippers on. Sometimes I go full old man mode and have a hot water bottle to warm my feet while watching reruns of Country House Rescue the best show Channel 4 has ever produced, and will ever produce. FULL STOP. Excuse me, I have seemed to have lost myself for a bit there, I apologise. As I was saying, poor circulation around the body can lead to muscles being stiff and thus limits the scope of movement. This is especially true for people with Muscular Dystrophy, where the muscles slowly limits their movement, couple that with extreme cold weather, doing regular tasks like driving your wheelchair is made much more difficult and sometimes, frustratingly, impossible.

  1. Poor circulation leads to spasms

For those who aren’t aware, spasms is defined as, “A sudden, abnormal, involuntary muscular contraction, consisting of a continued muscular contraction or of a series of alternating muscular contractions and relaxations”. Or more simply put a sudden and voluntary movement. This commonly occurs, at least in my case, when there is a sudden loud noise and I “jump” so to speak. In actual fact this, was a spasm. It can also happen when I’m nervous or concentrating really hard at something, for example, when I play Boccia. There are many ways to lessen the regularity and strength of spasms, exercise is a massive one, stretching those muscles, loosening and making them stronger is a massive benefit to stopping spasms. Another method I find that is really good is listening to music. This is something I want to go more in-depth in a separate blog but, I will say that music plays a big part in my life and if you ever feel your body starting to spasm play this song and just drift away.

The cold can lead to more frequent spasms, aches and pains, especially if you don’t wrap up warm. A phrase I hear regularly is “You’ve got no coat on” and “Your Mum doesn’t love you”. To those I say, “Do you know how much the coat costs? And, “Don’t worry I’ve known for years”. Joking! My Mum loves me very much. The actual reason I don’t usually wear a coat is because it’s a hassle to put on and take off. I have a bad habit of using this as an excuse, not just with putting overlarge coats on but with many things in life. Sometimes, I feel like I’m asking too much of someone. I know it may sound stupid to some of you but when you are so dependent on people to help dress you, for example, sometimes I feel guilty in asking something as simple  as putting a coat on. I know I shouldn’t and I have the right to be comfortable and warm before going out.

Cold nights can also have a big effect on my sleeping pattern and often on a cold night I find it difficult to get sleep. Which then leads to me being tired, which leads to tired muscles, which equals more spasms and thus the vicious cycle continues. But don’t fret, on those cold occasions, I do my trusty hot water bottle and my yellow blanket which has white dog hairs all over. To try and break the cycle I get out of my chair during the day and have a lie down, in occasions a power nap and not afraid to admit. This is helps me loosen my body and help me gain some sleep that I may have missed.

I’ve rambled on long enough; this blog is now over a thousand words! I need an editor. I have hoped you have enjoyed and learnt at least one thing you didn’t know about cerebral palsy. If you have any other questions please do feel free to email me, I’ll link it down the bottom of the page. No question is a stupid question! Remember, if you ever feel the cold wind making your body stiff and achy, where a coat, put on a pair of slippers, get your asset. A Blanket and a hot water bottle and watch Country House Rescue!


2 Responses to “Cerebral Palsy & the Winter Challenges”

  1. Krishna Birdy March 18, 2018

    Thanks for providing this insight Alex.
    There is so much provision and encouragement for society to do exercise for their physical and mental well-being, it’s about time central government also made provision for people who have very limited movement particularly for those who are reliant on support to move their bodies.

  2. Kavita March 23, 2018

    Alex, you should not feel guilty about asking someone to help put your coat on. It’s not just people with CP who need support, everybody does in one form or another. That’s life!