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Caring for the Paralyzed

By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 3)

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 50 Americans is living with some degree of paralysis. Paralysis can be either complete or partial, occurring on one or both sides of the body. It also can affect just one area, or be a widespread issue. Paraplegia is when paralysis affects the lower half of a loved oneís body, and quadriplegia is paralysis of both arms and legs.

Much of the time, paralysis is caused by strokes or a spinal cord injury. Other causes could be nerve or autoimmune diseases or Bellís palsy. The care a person needs will vary depending on the cause and nature of the paralysis; but whether from an accident or illness, caregivers can learn ways to make life easier.


Shock and disbelief are probably the most common reactions immediately following the diagnosis of paralyzation. Adjustment takes time and a caregiver can expect a loved one to go through a variety of stages including: grieving, taking control, talking about the disability, taking care of self, and looking ahead.

A caregiver can find a lot of support for themselves and a loved one from local medical and/or counseling professionals, as well as support groups. The Web sites of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and the American Paralysis Association contain a wealth of information.

One major concern post-diagnosis is paying for the mounting costs of paralysis. The University of Alabamaís National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center and the CDC have estimated these costs and say that the first year of any type of paralysis will cost the most (up to $900,000 at the most severe level) and in subsequent years, less, but still total nearly $200,000 per year.

This same group reports that 12 days is the normal stay of initial hospitalization, followed by an average of 37 days in a rehabilitation unit. Nearly 90 percent of all spinal cord injured loved ones are discharged to their private homes, and about six percent to nursing homes.

While all of this can be overwhelming and terrifying to both caregiver and loved one, there is support available through grants and other funding. The paralysis foundations and associations offer a place for caregivers to locate and pursue these opportunities.

In a study done by the CDC and Reeve Foundation, it was found that the annual household income of most people in the paralysis group was less than $30,000, and for 25 percent, it was $10,000. The diagnosis of paralysis often leads to job loss. If the spouse is the main caregiver (as is often the case), he or she may also face job loss and loss of health care insurance. And while itís been proven that technology is helping people with paralysis live longer, the cost will be extended as well.


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