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Premature babies are more likely than those delivered at full term to require support from occupational therapists as they get older, new research has found.
This discovery was made by doctors from the University Hospital of Umea in Sweden, who wanted to explore how being born between 23 and 25 weeks gestation affected people's health in later life.
In the initial weeks after birth, preterm babies typically need support breathing and digesting food, while they tend to struggle with developing cognitive skills in their early childhood.
Then, from the time they are toddlers until they reach the age of ten, study co-author Dr Aijaz Farooqi summarised: "Children born extremely preterm at 23 to 25 weeks gestation face an increased risk of chronic health problems such as neurodevelopmental handicap (mostly mild or moderate), asthma and behavioural difficulties.
"At school age, many extremely preterm children whose general intelligence is normal or in the lower normal range have motor impairments, behavioural problems, social problems and academic underachievement."
By the time the study subjects reached their teenage years, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) were receiving regular support from an occupational therapist or physiotherapist to enable them to live a more active life. In comparison, just 25 per cent of participants who had been born at full term (at 37 weeks gestation or later) required this type of assistance.
In addition, 60 per cent of the adolescents who had been born prematurely needed help with daily tasks such as walking, feeding themselves, getting dressed and using the bathroom, compared to just 29 per cent of those carried to full term.
Therefore, occupational therapists may be needed to assist with these tasks, alongside helping to prevent the development of other health conditions that adults who were born prematurely are more susceptible to, including lung disease, central nervous system degeneration and sight problems.
Written by Alex Franklin Stortford
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