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Preterm birth is associated with an increased risk for cognitive-neurophysiological impairments and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Whether the associations are due to the preterm birth insult per se, or due to other risk factors that characterise families with preterm-born children, is largely unknown.
We employed a within-sibling comparison design, using cognitive-performance and event-related potential (ERP) measures from 104 preterm-born adolescents and 104 of their term-born siblings. Analyses focused on ADHD symptoms and cognitive and ERP measures from a cued continuous performance test, an arrow flanker task and a reaction time task.
Within-sibling analyses showed that preterm birth was significantly associated with increased ADHD symptoms (β = 0.32, p = 0.01, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.58) and specific cognitive-ERP impairments, such as IQ (β = −0.20, p = 0.02, 95% CI −0.40 to −0.01), preparation-vigilance measures and measures of error processing (ranging from β = 0.71, −0.35). There was a negligible within-sibling association between preterm birth with executive control measures of inhibition (NoGo-P3, β = −0.07, p = 0.45, 95% CI −0.33 to 0.15) or verbal working memory (digit span backward, β = −0.05, p = 0.63, 95% CI −0.30 to 0.18).
Our results suggest that the relationship between preterm birth with ADHD symptoms and specific cognitive-neurophysiological impairments (IQ, preparation-vigilance and error processing) is independent of family-level risk and consistent with a causal inference. In contrast, our results suggest that previously observed associations between preterm birth with executive control processes of inhibition and working memory are instead linked to background characteristics of families with a preterm-born child rather than preterm birth insult per se. These findings suggest that interventions need to target both preterm-birth specific and family-level risk factors.
Affective disorders are associated with poorer cognition in older adults; however, whether this association can already be observed in mid-life remains unclear.
To investigate the effects of affective symptoms over a period of 30 years on mid-life cognitive function. First, we explored whether timing (sensitive period) or persistence (accumulation) of affective symptoms predicted cognitive function. Second, we tested how different longitudinal trajectories of affective symptoms were associated with cognitive function.
The study used data from the National Child Development Study. Memory, verbal fluency, information processing speed and accuracy were measured at age 50. Affective symptoms were measured at ages 23, 33, 42 and 50 and used to derive longitudinal trajectories. A structured modelling approach compared a set of nested models in order to test accumulation versus sensitive period hypotheses. Linear regressions and structural equation modelling were used to test for longitudinal associations of affective symptoms with cognitive function.
Accumulation of affective symptoms was found to be the best fit for the data, with persistent affective symptoms being associated with poorer immediate memory (b = −0.07, s.e. = 0.03, P = 0.01), delayed memory (b = −0.13, s.e. = 0.04, P < 0.001) and information processing accuracy (b = 0.18, s.e. = 0.08, P = 0.03), but not with information processing speed (b = 3.15, s.e. = 1.89, P = 0.10). Longitudinal trajectories of repeated affective symptoms were associated with poorer memory, verbal fluency and information processing accuracy.
Persistent affective symptoms can affect cognitive function in mid-life. Effective management of affective disorders to prevent recurrence may reduce risk of poor cognitive outcomes and promote healthy cognitive ageing.