Premature infants benefit from adult talk, study shows

Research led by a team at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University has been published in the February 10, 2014 online edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.The research indicates that premature babies benefit from being exposed to adult talk as early as possible.The research, entitled “Adult Talk in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) with Preterm Infants and Developmental Outcomes,” was led by Betty Vohr, MD, director of Women & Infants’ Neonatal Follow-Up Program and professor of pediatrics, along with her colleagues Melinda Caskey, MD, neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics; Bonnie Stephens, MD, neonatologist, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, and assistant professor of pediatrics; and Richard Tucker, BA, senior research data analyst.The goal of the study was to test the association of the amount of talking that a baby was exposed to at what would have been 32 and 36 weeks gestation if a baby had been born full term, using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley — III) cognitive and language scores.It was hypothesized that preterm infants exposed to higher word counts would have higher cognitive and language scores at seven and 18 months corrected age.”Our earlier study identified that extremely premature infants vocalize (make sounds) eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU staff,” explained Dr. Vohr.At 32 weeks and 36 weeks, staff recorded the NICU environment for 16 hours with a Language Environment Analysis (LENA) microprocessor. The adult word count, child vocalizations and “conversation turns” (words of mother or vocalizations of infant within five seconds) between mother and infant are recorded and analyzed by computer.”The follow-up of these infants has revealed that the adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicts their language and cognitive scores at 18 months. Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32 week LENA recording was associated with a two point increase in the language score at 18 months,” said Dr. Vohr.The results showed the hypothesis to be true. Dr. Vohr concluded, “Our study demonstrates the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes. Historically, very premature infants are at increased risk of language delay.The study now identifies an easy to implement and cost effective intervention — come talk and sing to your baby — to improve outcomes.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Women & Infants Hospital. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Psychologist shows why talking to kids really matters

Fifty years of research has revealed the sad truth that the children of lower-income, less-educated parents typically enter school with poorer language skills than their more privileged counterparts. By some measures, 5-year-old children of lower socioeconomic status (SES) score two years behind on standardized language development tests by the time they enter school.In recent years, Anne Fernald, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has conducted experiments revealing that the language gap between rich and poor children emerges during infancy. Her work has shown that significant differences in both vocabulary and real-time language processing efficiency were already evident at age 18 months in English-learning infants from higher- and lower-SES families. By age 24 months, there was a six-month gap between SES groups in processing skills critical to language development.Fernald’s work has also identified one likely cause for this gap. Using special technology to make all-day recordings of low-SES Spanish-learning children in their home environments, Fernald and her colleagues found striking variability in how much parents talked to their children. Infants who heard more child-directed speech developed greater efficiency in language processing and learned new words more quickly. The results indicate that exposure to child-directed speech — as opposed to overheard speech — sharpens infants’ language processing skills, with cascading benefits for vocabulary learning.Fernald and colleagues are now running a parent-education intervention study with low-income Spanish-speaking mothers in East San Jose, California, funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. This new program, called Habla conmigo! …

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Drug reduces hospitalizations and cost of treating young children with sickle cell anemia

Sep. 2, 2013 — A drug proven effective for treatment of adults and children with sickle cell anemia reduced hospitalizations and cut annual estimated medical costs by 21 percent for affected infants and toddlers, according to an analysis led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The report appears today in the advance online edition of the journal Pediatrics.The study is the largest ever focusing on the economic impact of the drug hydroxyurea in children with the inherited blood disorder. The result supports expanded use of the drug to extend the length and quality of life for sickle cell anemia patients of all ages, said Winfred Wang, M.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Hematology and principal investigator of the multicenter federally funded trial known as BABY HUG.”We estimate that hydroxyurea cut overall annual medical expenses about $3,000 for each patient by helping patients avoid disease complications that require inpatient hospital care,” said Wang, who is first and corresponding author of the Pediatrics study. “We expect those savings will grow along with patients, whose symptoms often increase in severity and frequency as they age.”About 100,000 individuals in the U.S. and millions worldwide have sickle cell disease, which leaves them at risk for premature death and disability. The disease is the most common genetic disorder affecting African-American individuals, but those from other ethnic and racial backgrounds also inherit mutations in the hemoglobin gene. The mutations result in blood cells that are prone to assuming the sickled shape that gives the disease its name and that leave patients at increased risk for episodes of acute pain, stroke, organ damage and other complications.The analysis comes two years after Wang and his colleagues reported that hydroxyurea reduced episodes of acute pain and pneumonia-like illness, eased other symptoms, reduced the need for blood transfusions and cut hospitalizations for infants and toddlers with sickle cell anemia. …

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Primate calls, like human speech, can help infants form categories

Sep. 2, 2013 — Human infants’ responses to the vocalizations of non-human primates shed light on the developmental origin of a crucial link between human language and core cognitive capacities, a new study reports.Previous studies have shown that even in infants too young to speak, listening to human speech supports core cognitive processes, including the formation of object categories.Alissa Ferry, lead author and currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Language, Cognition and Development Lab at the Scuola Internationale Superiore di Studi Avanzati in Trieste, Italy, together with Northwestern University colleagues, documented that this link is initially broad enough to include the vocalizations of non-human primates.”We found that for 3- and 4-month-old infants, non-human primate vocalizations promoted object categorization, mirroring exactly the effects of human speech, but that by six months, non-human primate vocalizations no longer had this effect — the link to cognition had been tuned specifically to human language,” Ferry said.In humans, language is the primary conduit for conveying our thoughts. The new findings document that for young infants, listening to the vocalizations of humans and non-human primates supports the fundamental cognitive process of categorization. From this broad beginning, the infant mind identifies which signals are part of their language and begins to systematically link these signals to meaning.Furthermore, the researchers found that infants’ response to non-human primate vocalizations at three and four months was not just due to the sounds’ acoustic complexity, as infants who heard backward human speech segments failed to form object categories at any age.Susan Hespos, co-author and associate professor of psychology at Northwestern said, “For me, the most stunning aspect of these findings is that an unfamiliar sound like a lemur call confers precisely the same effect as human language for 3- and 4-month-old infants. More broadly, this finding implies that the origins of the link between language and categorization cannot be derived from learning alone.””These results reveal that the link between language and object categories, evident as early as three months, derives from a broader template that initially encompasses vocalizations of human and non-human primates and is rapidly tuned specifically to human vocalizations,” said Sandra Waxman, co-author and Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology at Northwestern.Waxman said these new results open the door to new research questions.”Is this link sufficiently broad to include vocalizations beyond those of our closest genealogical cousins,” asks Waxman, “or is it restricted to primates, whose vocalizations may be perceptually just close enough to our own to serve as early candidates for the platform on which human language is launched?”

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Cry analyzer seeks clues to babies’ health

July 11, 2013 — Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital have developed a new tool that analyzes the cries of babies, searching for clues to potential health or developmental problems. Slight variations in cries, mostly imperceptible to the human ear, can be a “window into the brain” that could allow for early intervention.To parents, a baby’s cry is a signal of hunger, pain, or discomfort. But to scientists, subtle acoustic features of a cry, many of them imperceptible to the human ear, can hold important information about a baby’s health.A team of researchers from Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island has developed a new computer-based tool to perform finely tuned acoustic analyses of babies’ cries. The team hopes their baby cry analyzer will lead to new ways for researchers and clinicians to use cry in identifying children with neurological problems or developmental disorders.”There are lots of conditions that might manifest in differences in cry acoustics,” said Stephen Sheinkopf, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown, who helped develop the new tool. “For instance, babies with birth trauma or brain injury as a result of complications in pregnancy or birth or babies who are extremely premature can have ongoing medical effects. Cry analysis can be a noninvasive way to get a measurement of these disruptions in the neurobiological and neurobehavioral systems in very young babies.”The new analyzer is the result of a two-year collaboration between faculty in Brown’s School of Engineering and hospital-based faculty at Women & Infants Hospital. A paper describing the tool is in press in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.The system operates in two phases. During the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5-millisecond frames. Each frame is analyzed for several parameters, including frequency characteristics, voicing, and acoustic volume. The second phase uses data from the first to give a broader view of the cry and reduces the number of parameters to those that are most useful. …

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Infants express non-verbal sympathy for others in distress

June 12, 2013 — Infants as young as ten months old express sympathy for others in distress in non-verbal ways, according to research published June 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Yasuhiro Kanakogi and colleagues from Kyoto University and Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan.Share This:Infants at this age are known to assign goals and intentions to geometric figures; hence the researchers used a series of animated sequences to test infants’ responses to aggression. In their experiments, researchers showed infants an aggressive ‘social interaction’ between a blue ball that attacked and violently crushed a yellow cube and found that the babies preferentially reached for the victim rather than the aggressor. Infants’ behavior remained consistent when the roles of the shapes were reversed and when a neutral, non-aggressive shape was introduced in the video, suggesting that their preference for the victim was not out of fear of the aggressive shape.Based on these observations, the authors conclude, “Ten-month olds not only evaluate the roles of victims and aggressors in interactions but also show rudimentary sympathy toward others in distress based on that evaluation. This simple preference may function as a foundation for full-fledged sympathetic behavior later on.”Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. Journal Reference:Yasuhiro Kanakogi, Yuko Okumura, Yasuyuki Inoue, Michiteru Kitazaki, Shoji Itakura. Rudimentary Sympathy in Preverbal Infants: Preference for Others in Distress. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (6): e65292 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065292 Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats: APA MLA Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

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