Rough beginnings Executive function in adolescents and young adults after preterm birth and repeat antenatal corticosteroid treatment
Sammanfattning: This thesis investigates long-term cognitive outcome in two cohorts of adolescents and young adults exposed to stressors during the perinatal period: one group born preterm (<37 weeks of gestation and birth weight <1,500 g); one group exposed to two or more courses of antenatal corticosteroids (ACS), to stimulate lung maturation in the face of threatening preterm birth. In fetal life the brain undergoes dramatic growth, and a disruption to the early establishment of functional neural networks may interrupt development in ways that are difficult to predict. Executive function refers to a set of cognitive processes that are important for purposeful regulation of thought, emotion, and behavior, and even a subtle depreciation may influence overall functioning. Study I investigated the stability of executive function development after preterm birth. Executive functions were differentiated into working memory and cognitive flexibility. Both components were highly stable from preschool age to late adolescence. In Study II, we identified subgroups within the group of children born preterm with respect to cognitive profiles at 5½ and 18 years, and identified longitudinal streams. Outcome after preterm birth was diverse, and insufficiently predicted by perinatal and family factors. Individuals performing at low levels at 5½ years were unlikely to improve over time, while a group of individuals performing at or above norm at 5½ years had improved their performance relative to term-born peers by age 18. Studies I and II pointed to the need for developmental monitoring of those at risk, prior to formal schooling. Study III investigated long-term cognitive outcome after repeat ACS treatment. The study did not provide support for the concern that repeat ACS exposure will have an adverse impact on cognitive function later in life. In sum, exposure to perinatal stressors resulted in great variation in outcome. However, for many, their rough beginnings had not left a lasting mark.
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