(HealthDay News) — For preterm infants, adult word count in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) correlates positively with cognitive and language development, according to a study published online February 10 in Pediatrics.

Melinda Caskey, MD, from the Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, RI, and colleagues conducted a prospective study involving 36 preterm infants with a birth weight of ≤1,250g. The researchers sought to examine the correlation of mean adult word counts with Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley-III) cognitive and language scores. Using a digital language processor, 16-hour recordings were made in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks’ postmenstrual age.

The researchers found that adult word counts in the NICU were positively associated with Bayley-III scores at 7 and 18 months. After adjustment for birth weight, adult word count per hour for the 32-week recording independently accounted for 12 and 20% of the variance in language composite scores and expressive communication scores, respectively, at 18 months (P=0.04 and 0.008, respectively). Adult word count per hour in the 36-week recording independently explained 26% of the variance in composite cognitive scores at 7 months (P=0.0049).

“Increased amount of parent talk with preterm infants in the NICU was associated with higher 7- and 18-month corrected age Bayley-III language and cognitive scores,” the authors write. “These findings offer an opportunity for language intervention starting in the NICU.”

One author is a member of the scientific advisory board for the LENA Foundation.

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