Study: Preemies benefit from hearing speech early

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 Feb. 10 online edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. More

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Study: Preemies benefit from hearing speech early

Posted 3/3/14

PROVIDENCE – 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 Feb. 10 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 Dr. Betty Vohr, director of Women & Infants’ Neonatal Follow-Up Program and professor of pediatrics, along with her colleagues Dr. Melinda Caskey, neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics; Dr. Bonnie Stephens, neonatologist, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, and assistant professor of pediatrics; and Richard Tucker, 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. 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,” said Vohr.

“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 Vohr.

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