AIM: To investigate whether children with perinatal brain injury have impairments in specific components of visual attention, and whether early dietary supplementation can reduce any deficits. METHOD: Children participating in the Dolphin neonatal trial of dietary supplementation were tested at age 6 months with the Infant Fixation Shift Attention Test, and at 4 to 5 years with four subtests of the Early Childhood Attention Battery (ECAB) assessing different components of attention (selective, sustained, and executive function), and the Fluid Crystallized Intelligence Index of the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children, Second Edition (KABC-II). From 59 children originally assigned to trial groups, 33 were available for testing at 4 to 5 years (18 treatment group of whom seven, six, and five showed mild, moderate, or severe neonatal brain injury; 15 controls with one, seven, and seven in the neonatal brain injury categories respectively). Given the imbalance in numbers with mild brain injury, analysis of trial group differences is restricted to moderate and severe brain injury severities (n=25). RESULTS: Children with perinatal brain injury showed poorer attention across all components relative to age norms (mean standard scores 75-87; p<0.001 for three of the four subtests), with the greatest impairment in sustained attention. These impairments remained when compared with cognitive age assessed using the Fluid Crystallized Intelligence Index. Impairment was reduced in the treatment compared to the control group (p=0.04 for flanker test, p=0.002 for counterpointing, and p=0.027 for the overall ECAB score). INTERPRETATION: Perinatal brain injury is associated with later impaired attention, beyond that predicted from any general cognitive disability. Impairment varies across attention components, being most severe for sustained attention. The effects on flanker and counterpointing suggest that dietary supplementation from 0 to 2 years of age may reduce attention problems. Measuring the different components of attention is important when considering assessment and interventions for children with perinatal brain injury.
Dev Med Child Neurol