Objective: This study aimed to examine attention and processing speed outcomes in very preterm (VPT; < 32 weeks' gestational age) or very low birth weight (VLBW; < 1,500 g) children, and to determine whether brain abnormality measured by neonatal MRI can be used to predict outcome in these domains.
Method: A cohort of 198 children born < 30 weeks' gestational age and/or < 1,250 g and 70 term controls were examined. Neonatal MRI scans at term equivalent age were quantitatively assessed for white matter, cortical gray matter, deep gray matter, and cerebellar abnormalities. Attention and processing speed were assessed at 7 years using standardized neuropsychological tests. Group differences were tested in attention and processing speed, and the relationships between these cognitive domains and brain abnormalities at birth were investigated.
Results: At 7 years of age, the VPT/VLBW group performed significantly poorer than term controls on all attention and processing speed outcomes. Associations between adverse attention and processing speed performances at 7 years and higher neonatal brain abnormality scores were found; in particular, white matter and deep gray matter abnormalities were reasonable predictors of long-term cognitive outcomes.
Conclusion: Attention and processing speed are significant areas of concern in VPT/VLBW children. This is the first study to show that adverse attention and processing speed outcomes at 7 years are associated with neonatal brain pathology.