Years Later, Preterm Children’s Brains Can Catch Up By the time they become teenagers, the brains of many preterm children can perform almost as well as those born at term, according to a study published May 5 in The Journal of Pediatrics. However, the results also highlight that the quality of the home environment at the time of ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   October 01, 2014
Years Later, Preterm Children’s Brains Can Catch Up
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Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   October 01, 2014
Years Later, Preterm Children’s Brains Can Catch Up
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB6.19102014.np
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB6.19102014.np
By the time they become teenagers, the brains of many preterm children can perform almost as well as those born at term, according to a study published May 5 in The Journal of Pediatrics. However, the results also highlight that the quality of the home environment at the time of the child’s birth plays an important role in the child’s later cognition. As long as the preterm child experiences no brain injury in early life, cognitive abilities as a teenager can be potentially as good as that of term-born peers.
“We looked at the factors that determine cognitive abilities in early adolescence, and found that whether or not you were born preterm appears to play a relatively minor role,” says one of the lead authors of the study, Julia Pitcher from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute. “Of significantly more importance is the degree of social disadvantage you experienced in your early life after birth, although genetics is important.”
The study assessed the cognitive abilities of 145 preterm and term-born young people now age 12 or older, and data on social disadvantage at the time of birth and at the time of the cognitive assessment.
“The results of our study provide further proof that those born at term tend to have better cognitive abilities—such as working memory, brain processing efficiency and general intellectual ability,” says researcher Luke Schneider. “But the postnatal environment seems to be playing an important role in whether or not a preterm child is able to overcome that initial risk of reduced brain development.”
Researchers do not know how different factors in the home environment drive specific aspects of brain development, but believe early nutrition and enrichment through physical and intellectual stimulation are likely to have key roles.
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October 2014
Volume 19, Issue 10