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Early Intervention for Premature Babies Helps Increase IQ, Says Study

Update Date: Dec 23, 2012 05:45 AM EST
Premature Baby
Preterm infants who were treated in the single family room NICU had greater weight gain and fewer medical procedures in comparison to the preterm infants who were treated in the traditional "open bay" NICU. (Photo : KellyDavis786Flickr)

There have been studies earlier linking premature birth to increased risk of lower IQ and impaired cognitive and motor skills in babies. However, a new study has found that programs for helping such infants and their families after they leave the hospital apparently increases IQ in the period up to school age, and provides lasting improvements in cognitive skills.

For the study, researchers conducted a review of 21 studies of early developmental intervention programs for babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy.

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The programs included physical and occupational therapy for infants to teaching parents the best ways to stimulate and interact with their babies. The programs, which were conducted by a health professional, although could only provide small improvement in motor development, showed a clinically significant effect on cognitive development until school age.

"The differences in cognitive outcomes during infancy are approximately five developmental quotient points and at preschool age, approximately seven IQ points," said lead author Alicia Spittle, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

"Unfortunately, there have not been as many studies that have followed these children into school age and those that do have variable results. Some show long term benefits and others don't."

While most of the intervention programs started after the discharge from hospital, some began even before the premature infants left the hospital. The researchers found these programs to be even more beneficial than the ones that were started later.

The earlier the interventions start, the better the development in cognitive and motor skills, according to Nathan Blum, M.D., a development behavioral pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

These programs are also helpful in increasing non-cognitive skills, such as increasing attention span, social skills and perseverance, he said.

"These are skills that are largely beginning to develop in the preschool period and are areas where early intervention has profound effects."

The positive effects of the interventions are even more pronounced in infants from families with psychosocial risk factors such as poverty or lack of education, he added.

 

 

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