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Preterm infants follow an altered neurodevelopmental trajectory compared to their term born peers as a result of the influence of early birth, and the altered environment.Infant massage in the preterm infant has shown positive effects on weight gain and reduced length of hospital stay.
The untimely interruption of the developing fetus’ environment is thought to be a major contributor to this phenomenon .
The altered neurodevelopmental trajectory observed in preterm infants results from interruption of the intrauterine environment.
Environmental enrichment and social stimulation induce experience-dependent neuroplasticity in experimental animal models .
Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the mammalian brain to use the activity induced by a given experience, enabling the modification of function in neuronal circuitry .
Repetitive pain universally experienced by premature infants from frequent invasive procedures is hypothesised to cause excessive activation of central afferent pain pathways and excitotoxic damage to the developing brain .
While the impact of these factors and negative influence on the brain are recognised, emergent strategies to lessen harm include environmental enrichment and infant massage.
Results include numerous primary medical problems experienced by preterm infants such as lung disease of prematurity, physiological instability, asphyxia, suboptimal nutrition, infection, medication side effects and hyperbilirubinaemia, each of which may have its own potentially deleterious impact on brain development [6, 10].
Environmental stressors, which include frequent noxious stimulation, excessive sound and constant light, also adversely affect the normal neurodevelopmental trajectory [6, 10].
These connections are fundamental for cortical processing and cognition .
Between 29 and 41 weeks, total brain volume is increased nearly 3-fold, cortical gray matter volume is increased 4-fold and cerebellar volume is increased 4-fold .