The neuropsychological effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol

Phillips, Leilanie Cashandra (2004-12)

Thesis (MA)--University of Stellenbosch, 2004.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The objective of this thesis is to review and synthesize the scientific literature on cognitive and neuropsychological deficits associated with children who were exposed to alcohol prenatally and to highlight possible areas of future attention. High incidences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has been reported especially in patients from low socio-economic areas. The highest reported incidence is found in the Western Cape province in South Africa. The devastating part of FAS is that its affects are entirely preventable. Alcohol is a physical and a behavioural teratogen. Prenatal alcohol exposure causes structural damage to the central nervous system and the brain that is vulnerable throughout the pregnancy. A dose-response association exist as exposure to heavier amounts of alcohol can cause more harm. The timing and pattern of alcohol consumption also plays a role. To date though, no "safe" level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be advocated. Various neuropsychological decrements are found in individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome or alcohol related neuro-developmental deficits as evaluated on standardized tests. Mental retardation is commonly found and even individuals with normal IQ's still display other learning disabilities. IQ's remain stable over the life span. Along with impaired intellectual functioning they also struggle with mathematical tasks especially as their complexity increases. Speech and language development is also delayed in individuals with FAS. There is little variation in the pith and display poor language comprehension. Attentional deficits are also noted and especially impact on academic functioning. Clinically, children often present with ADHD but in-depth studies have revealed that neurobiologically there is some differences as children with FAS struggle more with encoding and shifting of attention as opposed to other patients with ADHD. Difficulties with visual-spatial functioning has also been found. Verbal learning and memory are also impaired in individuals with FAS. Their poor verbal learning are influenced by their shallow level of encoding. Problems with fine motor skills are also noted. It also appear that all executive functions are impaired. They demonstrate poor planning skills, initiation, cognitive shifting, slow information processing, their thinking is concrete and they have poor self-regulatory skills. Behavioural problems include impulsivity, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, poor social skills and impaired judgement. Early intervention is thus essential to lessen the impact of neuro-psychological deficits on functional adaptation. A sensitive battery of neuro-psychological tests are also required to identify all the impairments in affected individuals and to plan more focussed intervention strategies.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie tesis word 'n oorsig aangebied van literatuur wat betrekking het op die disfunksie van kinders wie se moeders tydens swangerskap alkohol misbruik het. Leemtes asook moontlike areas van toekomstige navorsing, is bespreek. 'n Hoe voorkoms van fetale alkohol sindroom (FAS) word gerapporteer, pasiente uit die lae SES gebiede. Die hoogste voorkoms word gerapporteer in die Wes- Kaapse provinsie in Suid Afrika. Wat die probleem meer tragies maak, is die feit dat dit heeltemal voorkombaar is. Alkohol is 'n teratogeen wat fisieke, neurologiese en gedragsimplikasies het. Blootstelling aan alkohol voor geboorte veroorsaak strukturele veranderinge in die sentrale senuweestelsel en die brein. Blootstelling tot hoer volumes van alkohol veroorsaak noodwendig meer skade. Die spesifieke stadium van alkohol-inname tydens die swangerskap, en die moeder se drinkpatroon, speel 'n rol in die neurosielkundige uitkomste. Tot op hede kon geen veilige alkoholsvlak tydens swangerskap vasgestel word nie. Verskeie neurosielkundige uitvalle is gevind in kinders met FAS en ook kinders met alkohol-verwante neurologies ontwikkelings probleme, volgens neurosielkundige toetsing. Verstandelike gestremdheid kom algemeen voor in kinders met FAS. Kinders met FAS wat oor normale intellektuele vernoens beskik ervaar leerprobleme. Die intellektuele inkortings bly stabiel oor die lewenspan. Kinders met FAS ondervind erge probleme met wiskunde, veral wanneer die werk moeiliker raak. Die spraak-en taalontwikkeling wat kinders met FAS ervaar sluit in beperkte taalbegrip en intonasie. Hulle kort aandagspan affekteer veral hulle akademiese funksionering. Die aandagsteuring van kinders met FAS en kinders met aandagstekort-hiperaktiwiteit versteuring verskil neuro-biologies. Verdere verskille bestaan ook aangesien kinders met FAS spesifiek sukkel met swak enkoderingsvermoe en om kognitiewe aanpassings te maak. Visueel-ruimtelike verrnoe van kinders met FAS is ook benadeel. Hulle sukkel ook met verbale leer en hulle geheue is ook ingekort. Die inkortings dui op 'n oppervlakkige enkoderingsvermoe. Probleme met fyn-motoriese vaardighede is ook gevind, volgens toetseing. Toetse wat gemik is om uitvoerende funksies te evalueer, het verskeie uitvalle aan die lig gebring. Probleme in abstrakte redenering, beplanning, impulsiwiteit, self-regulering, en die lnlslerlnq en prosessering van informasie. Gedragsprobleme soos swak sosialiseringsvaardighede, aggresiwiteit, swak oordeel en hiperaktiwiteit. Die wye neurosielkundige uitvalle wat voorkom in kinders met FAS noodsaak vroee intervensie om die langtermyn-impak daarvan te verminder. Hiervoor word 'n sensitiewe battery neurosielkundige toetse benodig wat al die kognitiewe uitvalle kan identifiseer.

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