Physical therapy article wins APTA recognition
1:29 p.m., June 1, 2006--The American Physical Therapy Association has named researchers from the University of Delaware winners of the Dorothy Briggs Memorial Scientific Inquiry Award, which recognizes student members of the organization who have published an outstanding article in the journal Physical Therapy.
Authors of the article, which offers new data on learning impairments in preterm infants, are doctoral candidates Jill C. Heathcock and Michele A. Lobo, as well as Anjana N. Bhat, a Ph.D. The three work in UD's Infant Motor Behavior Laboratory under the direction of James C. “Cole” Galloway, assistant professor of physical therapy.
The article concerns the differences in motor learning of very young infants born full term and preterm. Specifically, the researchers observed how 90-day-old full term and preterm infants kicked to move a toy mobile. The mobile was tethered to one ankle while the infants reclined in their home crib. The more the infants kicked using the tethered leg, the more the mobile moved.
The UD researchers found that infants born preterm differ from full term infants in both their basic kicking, as well as how they use their kicks to learn to move the mobile. Full term infants learned to make the mobile move within one session, whereas preterm infants did not learn despite having 12 sessions over six weeks. In addition, full term infants learned that to move the mobile, all that was needed was right leg kicking. Preterm infants kicked both legs the same amount throughout the study.
The researchers concluded that the full term infants adapted their kicking to move the mobile and retained the adaptation in their short-term memory, while the preterm infants showed no adaptation, suggesting a potential impairment of early motor learning or purposeful leg control. This lack of control, they believe, may reflect a general decrease in the ability of infants born preterm to use their limb movements to interact with their environment.
As such, the mobile paradigm may be clinically useful in the early assessment and intervention of infants born preterm and at risk for future impairment as researchers believe movement in early infancy has a key role in motor learning and motor skill acquisition.
“These findings are important because impairments in early kicking behavior when a baby is 90 days of age may signal future delays in functional skills such as walking when the child is a year or older,” Lobo said.
“Walking is a milestone everyone can see,” Heathcock said. “The long term goal is to use our findings for the prediction of future developmental delays so that we can assess the infants for treatment and find ways to help infants and their families. Preterm babies are born at higher risk for developmental delays and doctors and therapists often monitor them. We hope that by identifying potential delays in the first months of life, appropriate treatment can be provided.”
“The earlier we can provide appropriate intervention, the better children and their families will do in the long run,” Lobo said. “That's the goal, to determine who is in need of additional assistance.”
Heathcock said the award “is really exciting for the lab, the Department of Physical Therapy, and the Biomechanics and Movement Science graduate program” and she credited the department for its interest in pediatric physical therapy.
“This lab is unique,” Lobo said. “Not many physical therapy labs in the country are focused on early infant movement.”
Galloway said the research team's findings are leading the way to an exciting new project that will couple the mobile paradigm with advanced brain imaging, working in cooperation with Christiana Care and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. They plan to generate three-dimensional images of brain structures in conjunction with the paradigm to better understand motor skill impairments.
The final step is to take these findings and work with clinicians and educators to provide advanced, family-centered intervention for babies with special needs in clinics such as UD's Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic, Galloway said.
Article by Neil Thomas