Objective: To investigate the association of motor and cognitive/learning deficiencies and overall disabilities in very preterm (VPT) children and their relations to gestational age (GA) and brain lesions.
Design setting and participants: EPIPAGE is a longitudinal population-based cohort study of children born before 33 weeks' gestation (WG) in 9 French regions in 1997-1998. Cumulating data from all follow up stages, neurodevelopmental outcomes were available for 90% of the 2480 VPT survivors at 8 years. Main outcomes were association of motor and cognitive deficiencies and existence of at least one deficiency (motor, cognitive, behavioral/psychiatric, epileptic, visual, and/or hearing deficiencies) in three GA groups (24-26, 27-28, and 29-32WG) and four groups of brain lesions (none, minor, moderate, or severe).
Results: VPT had high rates of motor (14%) and cognitive (31%) deficiencies. Only 6% had an isolated motor deficiency, 23% an isolated cognitive one and 8% both types. This rate reached 20% among extremely preterm. Psychiatric disorders and epilepsy were observed in 6% and 2% of children, respectively. The risks of at least one severe or moderate deficiency were 11 and 29%. These risks increased as GA decreased; only 36% of children born extremely preterm had no reported deficiency. Among children with major white matter injury (WMI), deficiency rates reached 71% at 24-26WG, 88% at 27-28WG, and 80% at 29-32WG; more than 40% had associated motor and cognitive deficiencies. By contrast, isolated cognitive deficiency was the most frequent problem among children without major lesions.
Conclusions: In VPT, the lower the GA, the higher the neurodisability rate. Cerebral palsy is common. Impaired cognitive development is more frequent. Its occurrence in case without WMI or early motor disorders makes long-term follow up necessary. The strong association between motor impairments, when they exist, and later cognitive dysfunction supports the hypothesis of a common origin of these difficulties.