The impact of late preterm birth on executive function at preschool age

Am J Perinatol. 2014 Apr;31(4):305-14. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1348950. Epub 2013 Jun 17.


Objective: Very preterm birth (< 32 weeks' gestation) affects cognitive development. The impact of late preterm birth (34 to 36 weeks' gestation) on cognition, specifically executive function, is not fully characterized. The aim of this study was to assess whether late preterm children demonstrate impaired executive function compared with full-term children (38 to 42 weeks' gestation).

Study design: This was a prospective cohort study of 4-year-old children. Preterm (n = 39) and full-term children (n = 44) completed a battery of executive function tasks and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-4. Parents completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Preschool version.

Results: Preterm children performed worse on the verbal inhibitory control (p = 0.02) and short-term verbal memory (p = 0.01) tasks. Gestational age predicted performance on the verbal inhibitory control (p = 0.02) and short-term verbal memory (p = 0.04) tasks. There was no group difference in nonverbal inhibitory control (p = 0.45) or spatial memory (p = 0.60). Parents of preterm and full-term children rated their children's behavior similarly (p = 0.79).

Conclusion: Late preterm children demonstrated compromised verbal inhibitory control and short-term verbal memory compared with full-term peers. Late preterm children may not be spared from altered brain development. Further research is indicated to determine whether to screen late preterm children for executive function deficits.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies