Learning problems

Quality of early child care affects academic achievement in adolescence

July, 2010

A long-running study has revealed that while hours of non-relative childcare in the preschool years affects later behavior, quality of childcare continues to affect academic achievement into adolescence.

Data from the same long-running study (the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development), this time involving 1,364 youth (followed since birth), found that teens who had spent the most hours in non-relative child care in their first 4½ years reported a slightly greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking at 15 than did peers who spent less time in child care (21% were in care for more than 30 hours a week; 24% had had more than one year of care by 4 ½). But it was the quality of child care that made the difference as far as cognitive and academic performance was concerned. Those who had higher quality child care had better results on cognitive and academic assessments at both age 4½ and age 15. High-quality care was characterized by the caregivers' warmth, support, and cognitive stimulation of the children under their care. More than 40% of the children experienced high-quality (17%) or moderately high-quality (24%) care. The findings were consistent across gender and socioeconomic status. Previous research has tended to focus on the effects of child care on disadvantaged children; this one is notable for involving children across society. The study is important not only for pointing to the effects of childcare quality, but for the finding that the effect continues into adolescence.

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Ritalin boosts learning by increasing brain plasticity

March, 2010

A rat study shows how Ritalin improves concentration and, it now appears, speed of learning. The finding may help the development of better-targeted drugs.

A rat study shows how Ritalin improves concentration and, it now appears, speed of learning. The study reveals that it does this by increasing the activity of dopamine at two specific types of neurotransmitter receptors in the amygdala. The dopamine receptor tagged “D2” appears to control the ability to stay focused on a task, while the D1 receptor underlies learning efficiency. The finding may help the development of better-targeted drugs.

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Prenatal meth exposure associated with brain abnormalities

March, 2010

An imaging study has revealed that children (aged 5-15) whose mothers abused methamphetamine and alcohol during pregnancy had structural abnormalities in the brain that were more severe than those seen in children whose mothers abused alcohol alone.

An imaging study has revealed that children (aged 5-15) whose mothers abused methamphetamine and alcohol during pregnancy had structural abnormalities in the brain that were more severe than those seen in children whose mothers abused alcohol alone. In particular, the striatal region was significantly smaller, and within the group, size of the caudate correlated negatively with IQ. Limbic structures, in particularly the cingulate cortex and the right inferior frontal gyrus, were significantly bigger. The striatal and limbic structures are also known to be particularly affected in adult methamphetamine abusers.

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Prenatal cocaine exposure impacts cognition in subtle ways

March, 2010

A review of 32 major studies of school-age children reveals that the consequences of prenatal exposure to cocaine for the brain are less sweeping than feared, but the specific areas affected such as sustained attention and self-regulated behavior could lead to serious problems later in life.

When a pregnant woman uses cocaine, it can interrupt the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the baby, putting such children at risk for premature birth, low birth weight and many other problems. However a new review of 32 major studies of school-age children reveals that the consequences for the brain are less sweeping than feared. Although many of the children did have low IQ and poor academic and language achievement, this seems to be related more to the home environment. But direct effects of cocaine exposure significantly affected children in specific areas such as sustained attention and self-regulated behavior — areas which could lead to serious problems later in life.

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Repeated anesthesia can affect children's ability to learn

March, 2010

A rodent study provides more support for the idea that repeated anaesthesia in children can lead to memory impairment.

Supporting the idea that repeated anaesthesia in children can lead to memory impairment, a rodent study has revealed that repeated anaesthesia wiped out a large portion of the stem cells in the hippocampus. This was associated with impaired memory in young animals, which worsened as they got older. The effect did not occur in adult animals. A similar effect has also been found with radiotherapy, and animal studies have found physical activity after radiotherapy results in a greater number of new stem cells that partly replace those that have been lost.

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