The ability to follow a cohort of high-risk infants from birth into adulthood is becoming more and more commonplace nowadays. What we are learning about the life trajectories of preterm or low birth weight infants from these cohorts is fascinating, and this important new knowledge may help us to do more to improve long-term quality of life.
Take for example the study by Breeman et al. (doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-0608) that we are publishing this week. The authors look at how cognitive function in very preterm (VP) and very low birth weight (VLBW) infants progresses over time compared to term infants. The authors followed more than 250 VP/VLBW babies in a cohort over their first 25 years of life assessing development and IQ at multiple points over that period of time. The results show that cognitive function is generally stable after 20 months for the VP/VLBW children and predictive of adult IQ whereas the cognitive function of term infants is not predictive of adult IQ until at least 6 years of age.
The implications of this study suggest that we should do an even better job of assessing our VP/VLBW patients in infancy and early toddlerhood so that developmental support services, if needed, can be implemented as early as possible with the hope of improving cognitive function. As to why the differences between VP/VLBW cognitive stability and that of term infants, you will need to read this study and see how the authors develop their interpretation of the data—and there is lots more to learn from this important study. It provides a remarkable look at the longitudinal follow-up of this unique, yet more and more common cohort of at-risk preterm and low birth weight patients.