Cognitive abilities increase significantly with time in most prematurely born children

Cognitive abilities increase significantly with time in most prematurely born children Many studies have found that children born prematurely with very low birthweight have an increased risk of many neurological problems, including cognitive handicaps. New research shows that most of these children improve significantly on tests of cognitive function during early childhood and score within the normal range on tests of verbal comprehension and intelligence by age 8.

"We believe that this is very important and interesting information - not only for the scientific community, but for the parents of preterm infants," says lead investigator Laura Ment, M.D. of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and appears in the February 12, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.*

Very low birthweight infants are defined as those weighing less than 1500 grams (about 3 pounds, 5 ounces) at birth, while most premature or low-birthweight babies weigh between 1500 and 2500 grams. About 1.4 percent more than 50,000 of the babies born in the United States each year have very low birthweight. Previous studies have found that, depending on birthweight and the year of birth, up to 50 percent of children with very low birthweight require special assistance in school and 20 percent require special education. However, other recent reports have found that almost 75 percent graduate from high school and more than 40 percent enter college. Taken together, these data suggest that cognitive functions improve over time in children born prematurely. The researchers set out to test that idea.

In the new study, Dr. Ment and her colleagues examined 296 children who weighed 600 to 1250 grams at birth. The children were part of a larger, long-term study that tested effects of the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin for pre

Contact: Natalie Frazin or Paul Girolami
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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