Brain connections with premature babies are weaker, according to the findings of a study recently conducted by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St.Louis.
Weaker neurological connections in the brains of premature babies may develop in cognitive issues as the child grows. According to the research findings recently discussed at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the weaker connections are found in areas associated with emotion processing, communication abilities and attention. As such, premature babies risk developing cognitive issues associated with these areas. According to Doctor Cynthia Rogers, author on the study and child psychiatrist with the Washington University School of Medicine:
“The brain is particularly plastic very early in life and potentially could be modified by early intervention”.
Doctor Rogers added that while typically interventions do not appear until symptoms already developed, the work is meant to open the door to early investigations and prevention strategies. These would allow early intervention and support to keep premature babies’ risks of developing such issues at a minimum.
The research was conducted using scans of 58 full term babies and 76 premature babies, born at least 10 weeks earlier than the term. The first group was scanned two to three days after their birth, while the second only a few days before they would have reached full term. By comparison, the scans show that brain connections with premature babies are weaker when it comes to those specific networks for communication, emotion processing and attention.
Doctor Rogers explained that white matter tracts, as well as brain circuits with premature babies differed greatly from those observed in full term babies. The study is significantly helpful in dealing with such issues early on. One in nine babies are born before term in the U.S. This ups the risk of cognitive issues, as well as has potentially negative effects on motor skills. Moreover, the risk of the child developing anxiety, autism spectrum disorders or ADHD spikes.
Doctor Rogers and her team plans to continue the study with follow-up evaluations as the children turn 2 years of age, 5 years, as well as 9 and 10 years.
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