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There’s what’s promising for moms and dads of preterm babies C latest research from the University of Adelaide implies that when they become teenagers, the brains of many preterm children are capable of doing almost as well as those born at term.

A study conducted by the University’s Robinson Research Institute finds that so long as the preterm child experiences no brain injury at the begining of life, their cognitive abilities like a teenager can potentially be just like their term-born peers.

However, the outcomes of the study, published in this month’s issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, also highlight that the excellence of the home environment at the time of the child’s birth plays an important role within their cognition later.

“Each year, 10% of Australian babies are born preterm, and lots of research indicates these children often have cognitive difficulties in childhood,” says among the lead authors from the study, Dr Julia Pitcher in the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute.

“This new study has some positive news. We checked out the factors that determine minds at the begining of adolescence, and located that whether or not you were born preterm appears to play a comparatively minor role. Of much more importance is the degree of social disadvantage you experienced in your early life after birth, although genetics is important,” Dr Pitcher says.

The study, conducted by Research Officer Dr Luke Schneider, assessed the minds of 145 preterm and term-born young adults now aged over 12. Also, he assessed data on social disadvantage at the time of birth and also at the time from the cognitive assessment.

“The outcomes in our study provide further proof those born at term tend to have better cognitive abilities C for example working memory, brain processing efficiency and general intellectual ability. However the postnatal environment seems to be playing an important role in whether a preterm child has the capacity to overcome that initial chance of reduced brain development,” Dr Schneider says.

“Reduced connectivity within the brain, associated with microstructural abnormalities from preterm birth, is probably adding to the cognitive deficits in these children. However these abnormalities appear to be amenable to improvement depending on the environment the child grows up in, particularly being an infant, and might take into account why some preterm children fare better than others.”

Dr Pitcher says: “What we should don’t yet know is how different facets in the home environment drive specific facets of brain development. But early nutrition and enrichment through physical and intellectual stimulation will probably have key roles.”

This research is based on the National Medical and health Research Council (NHMRC).