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Detecting motor abnormalities in preterm infants

Craig, C M and Grealy, M A and Lee, D N (2000) Detecting motor abnormalities in preterm infants. Experimental Brain Research, 131 (3). pp. 359-365. ISSN 0014-4819

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Abstract

As a consequence of the fragility of various neural structures, preterm infants born at a low gestation and/or birthweight are at an increased risk of developing motor abnormalities. The lack of a reliable means of assessing motor integrity prevents early therapeutic intervention. In this paper, we propose a new method of assessing neonatal motor performance, namely the recording and subsequent analysis of intraoral sucking pressures generated when feeding nutritively. By measuring the infant's control of sucking in terms of a new development of tau theory, normal patterns of intraoral motor control were established for term infants. Using this same measure, the present study revealed irregularities in sucking control of preterm infants. When these findings were compared to a physiotherapist's assessment six months later, the preterm infants who sucked irregularly were found to be delayed in their motor development. Perhaps a goal-directed behaviour such as sucking control that can be measured objectively at a very young age, could be included as part of the neurological assessment of the preterm infant. More accurate classification of a preterm infant's movement abnormalities would allow for early therapeutic interventions to be realised when the infant is still acquiring the most basic of motor functions. (C) Springer-Verlag 2000.