The current study examined memory and executive functioning in a sample of children who were hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth. Thirty-two children born prematurely and/or with medical complications (NICU children) and 25 control children born at term were assessed with the Cambridge Neuropsychological Testing Automated Battery (CANTAB), a multi-dimensional computer-based measure of memory and executive functioning. Comparisons between the NICU and control groups on the CANTAB subscales indicated that the NICU children had a shorter spatial memory span length and committed more forgetting errors on a spatial working memory task. Correlational analyses demonstrated that the number and extent of medical complications at birth was negatively associated with spatial memory span, planning and spatial recognition memory. Multiple regression models suggested that gestational age was of primary importance in predicting spatial memory span, while neurobiological risk was primary in the prediction of spatial working memory errors. Overall, the current results showed fewer deficits in this group of children than were found in a previous neuropsychological assessment of this cohort. The implications of this finding for discerning the effects of neural plasticity over and above normal brain maturational processes are discussed.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We wish to thank all of the families who, without hesitation, gave their time and effort to participate in this study. We also wish to acknowledge the assistance of Bonny Donzella, Elysia Davis, Jackie Bruce and Donna Lennes in data collection. This work was supported by NIH grants NS 76145 and HD 29421 to Drs Nelson and Georgieff, respectively.
- Brain development
- Executive functioning
- Premature birth