What is poor cognitive function and how does gestational age influence it?

Children need all parts of their brain to function well.

The cerebrum helps them learn, speak, and reason well, the cerebellum coordinates their balance, while the brainstem aids their digestion and sleep – to excel within and outside school.

The failure of the brain to meet these demands reflects negatively on children’s academic performances.

Children with poor cognitive function often have bad grades, and they always find themselves struggling to catch up with their peers. Also, this may earn them mocking comments from their peers, which negatively impacts their self-esteem.

Sneak peek…

What is Cognitive Function?

Cognitive functioning refers to multiple mental abilities including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem-solving, decision making, and attention.

Examples of basic cognitive skills include:

  • Ability to focus
  • Creative thinking
  • High level of assimilation
  • Flexibility in both mind and body
  • Working memory
  • Auditory and visual processing

Children who lack these skills have poor cognitive abilities.

Cognitive Functions Versus Intelligence Quotient IQ

The two terms might appear similar, but they are not.

What is cognitive ability and intelligence quotient?

Cognitive functions are the mental skills that are required to think, learn, read, remember, stay attentive, and solve problems. While Intelligence Quotient refers to how you apply the knowledge you acquired using your cognitive skills.

For instance, cognitive ability helps your child read for a test, but it is your child’s IQ that would determine the test score.

Recognizing Poor Cognitive Functioning In Children

Poor cognitive functioning in children often manifests in the form of:

  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to complete simple tasks at the expected time
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty understanding basic things

Low cognitive ability is influenced by a variety of factors including gestational age.

What is Gestational Age?

Gestational age refers to the length of pregnancy from the last day of a woman’s menstrual period to the current date. It’s measured in weeks and is usually within the range of 38 – 42 weeks.

A baby’s gestational age is usually determined after birth. To do this, examine the baby’s weight, length, head circumference, vital signs, reflexes, muscle tone, posture, and the condition of the skin and hair.

If these examinations match the calendar age, the baby is considered appropriate for gestational age (AGA).

AGA babies have lower rates of problems and death rates than babies that are smaller or larger when compared to their gestational age.

Foetal Brain Development During Pregnancy

Ideally, your baby’s brain starts to develop around week 5 through the neural tube, and peaks at week 33.

Babies born before week 37 are considered pre-term and those born after week  42 are considered late-term; these babies are highly susceptible to illnesses and death.

What Determines Gestational Ages In Babies?

Although the cause of preterm and late-term births are not fully understood, there are a few risk factors that increase the chances of their occurrence.

Preterm Birth:

A 5-year-study carried out by Euzebus C Ezugwu et al., revealed that preterm birth has a prevalence rate of 16.9% in Nigeria, this could be associated with risks factors like:

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Stress
  • Smoking, alcohol, and illegal drug consumption
  • High blood pressure
  • Maternal age – below 18 and above 35
  • Multiple births
  • Genetics
  • History of preterm birth etc.

Late-term Birth:

The rate of late-term births in Nigeria is much lower than in preterm.

In an article published in the Archives of Medicine and Surgery, Kaduna State University, a group of researchers stated that the rate of late-term births in Nigeria lies between 8% – 10%.

The risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Maternal age of 30 above
  • Nulliparity – this means that a woman has never given birth to a child or has never carried a pregnancy, hence her first pregnancy might be a risk factor
  • Genetic factors

The Role of Gestational Age in Children’s Cognitive Function

In a study published in the American Academy of Paediatrics Journal, a group of researchers led by Jennifer L. Beauregard established a connection between gestational age and poor cognitive function (low cognitive ability).

Based on the study, preterm children aged 3, 5, and 7 scored lower on naming vocabulary and construction scale, word reading, and number skills assessment compared to those born at full-term.

This led to the conclusion that gestational age is a predictor of poor cognitive function. It also indicated that the adverse effect of gestational age persists through middle childhood.

In another study by Allotey et al., it was discovered that prematurity had an intermediate effect on working memory in Primary and Secondary school ages, and these effects persisted beyond school age.

Additionally, another study revealed that Late-term children were more than twice as likely to have Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than term-born children.

How To Improve Cognitive Function in Children

  • Show them enough love and understanding to annul the effect of their condition on their self-esteem
  • Get them to exercise regularly
  • Take them on field trips
  • Ask them questions frequently and encourage them to express themselves
  • Encourage them to participate in sports and games like chess and puzzles
  • Play with them and teach them with fun educational resources like flashcards
  • Do not read for them, read with them

Cognitive skills can always be improved on and enhanced, and there are quite a lot of resources to help with that.

Poor cognitive function can be very challenging for any child. But, a low cognitive ability doesn’t have to spell doom or failures.

It shouldn’t.    

Categories: Health

Pat Asanga

Pat Asanga is a science writer with a passion for fact-based storytelling. She has a background in Animal and Environmental Biology.

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