The pandemic would have affected children's brain - up 'magazine

Would the pandemic, the confinements, the stress of the parents, the wearing of the mask, would the virus itself modified the brains of children born during this period?The pediatricians have looked very early on to this problem, from the fetal stage, to infants and then to small children, and their discoveries note a significant modification of cognitive and behavioral faculties.Sustainable changes to the point of talking about a COVIVE generation?The investigation carried out by the journal Nature lifts the veil on this unknown aspect of the pandemic.

From the first days of the pandemic, the pediatricians immediately prepared for the impact of the covid on children.They were quickly reassured when they found that most of the newborns arriving in their services were doing well.The sras-cov-2 coronavirus seemed to spare children.Apparently, because a subtle and insidious trend was emerging, with low noise.

The pediatrician Dani Dumitriu and her team at the New York-Presbyterian Children's Hospital Morgan Stanley had more than two years of infants' development data: since the end of 2017, they have analyzed the communication and motor skills of babies untilsix months.Ms. Dumitriu thought it would be interesting to compare the results of babies born before and during the pandemic.She asked her colleague Morgan Firestin, researcher in the psychology department of Columbia University in New York, to assess whether there were differences in neurological development between the two groups.

There must be something in the pandemic environment

The verdict fell a few days later.The two pediatricians were paid: the infants born during the pandemic obtained lower results, on average, to the tests of overall motor skills, fine motor skills and communication compared to those born before the pandemic.And this, whether or not the parent was infected with the virus.For these pediatricians, there must be something in the environment of the pandemic, and this could potentially affect hundreds of millions of children.

Prior research had suspected that although children were generally carried when they were infected with the Sras-Cov-2, on the other hand, stress linked to the pandemic during pregnancy could have a negative effect on theDevelopment of the brain of the fetus in some children.In addition, parents and people in charge of the child, distraught, could interact differently or less with their young children, which could affect the physical and mental capacities of these.Confainment measures - which have been generalized in almost all Western countries to control the spread of the coronavirus - have isolated many young families, depriving them of playing time and social interactions.In addition, stressed and out of breath by overload of work linked to the epidemic, many caregivers have not been able to offer babies and young children the individual time they needed.

This question of the impact of the pandemic on the development of the child interests pediatricians and researchers in early childhood at the highest point.Several teams, in various places in the world, begin to publish their conclusions.New studies have been launched.It is however difficult to obtain firm answers, especially because many research laboratories on the development of the child have been closed during the pandemic.

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Some babies born in the past two years may experience delays in development, while others could have flourished if the people who took care of them had stayed at home for long periods and if the brothers andsisters had had more opportunities to interact.As with many aspects of health during the pandemic, social and economic disparities play an obvious role in the behavior of the most affected people.The first data suggest that the use of masks has no negative effect on the emotional development of children.But prenatal stress could contribute to certain changes in brain connectivity.The table is evolving and many studies have not yet been examined by peers.

Some researchers argue that many of the children who are late in their development will be able to catch it without lasting effects."I do not expect us to discover that there is a generation that was injured by this pandemic," would like to reassure Moriah Thomason, children's and adolescent psychologist at the Grossman School of Medicine of the University ofNew York.

Slower children

The Baby Advanced Imagery Laboratory of Brown University in Providence, in Rhode Island is one of the few to have been active during the pandemic.In this laboratory, Sean Deoni, medical biophysicist, and his colleagues use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other techniques to study how environmental factors influence the development of the brain of infants.

La pandémie aurait affecté le cerveau des enfants - UP' Magazine

During the pandemic, the researchers continued to invite babies to their laboratory, in order to follow their motor, visual and linguistic skills as part of a seven -year study by the National Institutes of Health on the development of early childhoodand its effects on subsequent health.However, as the pandemic progressed, Professor Deoni began to hear disturbing comments from his colleagues."Our staff began to tell me, anecdotally, that the children took much more time to pass these evaluations," recalls the doctor.

Intrigued, he asks his researchers to trace and compare the annual averages and differences in children's neurodevelopmental scores.It was then that they discovered that the results obtained during the pandemic were much worse than those of previous years.According to Sean Deoni, things started to "collapse" at the end of 2020 and at the beginning of 2021.When the researchers compared the results between the participants, the babies born during the pandemic obtained lower results of almost two standard deviations from those born before the pandemic in a series of tests which measure the development similar to the tests ofQi.They also found that babies from low -income families suffered the most important declines, that boys were more affected than girls and overall motor skills were the most affected.

At the beginning, Professor Deoni assumed that a selection bias was at stake: perhaps the families who made the effort to present themselves to the tests during the pandemic were those whose children risk having problemsdevelopment or already presented.But, over time, he acquired the conviction that the selection bias did not explain the results, because the children who presented themselves had no history, birth results or different socio-economic status fromthose of previous participants.

These effects seemed radical, but some researchers say they are not necessarily predictive of long -term problems."Qi, as babies, does not predict much," said Marion Van Den Heuvel, Development Neuropsychologist at the University of Tilburg, in the Netherlands."It is really difficult to say anything about what it means for their future".She suggests that babies could compensate for the difficulties encountered once the pandemic is over and the situation returned to normal.

Optimism tempered by Professor Deoni who notes that the more the pandemic extends, the more the children accumulate deficits, which is worrying."The scale is enormous - it's simply amazing," said the professor about his conclusions, who are being revised in the journal Jama Pediatrics.

The importance of school

The question which arises is that of the reason why babies born during the COVVI-19 pandemic present important cognitive deficits, and above all engines.Professor Deoni puts an answer: he suspects that the problems come from a lack of interhuman interactions.As part of a follow-up search that has not yet been published, he and his team have recorded parent-child interactions at home and found that the number of words pronounced by the parents to their children, and viceVersa, in the past two years was lower than that of previous years.He also suspects that babies and young children do not have as much practice of overall motor skills as usual because they do not play regularly with other children or do not go to playgrounds."Unfortunately, these skills are in a way the basis of all other skills," he added.

Other recent research supports the idea that the lack of interactions with peers could slow down the development of certain children.In a study published in early 2022, researchers from the United Kingdom interviewed 189 parents of children aged 8 months to 3 years, asking them if their children had benefited from a childcare service or had gone to nursery school duringpandemic, and assessing linguistic skills and executive functions.The authors found that the skills of children were stronger if they had benefited from a collective reception during the pandemic, and that these advantages were more pronounced in children from low -income backgrounds.

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The latter are the most at risk: more and more studies suggest that in children of school age, distance learning could widen the already important learning and development differences between children from affluent environments andthose from disadvantaged backgrounds.In the Netherlands, researchers found that children had obtained less good results from national assessments in 2020-compared to the previous three years-and that learning losses were up to 60 % larger for children fromof less educated families.

In certain regions of sub -Saharan Africa - including Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania and Uganda - research indicates that some children have lost a full -year learning year.And in the United States, after the first confinement, a report by the consulting company McKinsey suggested that colored students began school in the fall with a delay in apprenticeship of three to five months, while studentswhites were only three months late (Go.nature.com/3fauntp).

Masked effects

Children who attended school or other groups during the pandemic generally interacted with other people who wore masks.An important question is whether the masks, which hide the parts of the face important for the expression of emotions and speech, can also affect the emotional and linguistic development of children.

Edward Tronick, psychologist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, was bombed with parents' emails and pediatricians worried about the potential effects of the development of development.Tronick is famous for his experience "Still Face" (1975), which showed that when biological parents suddenly remained impassive when they interacted with their children, they first tried to draw their attention, then slowly withdrew andbecame more and more annoyed and suspicious.

With his colleague, psychologist Nancy Snidman, he has conducted an experience (which has not yet been the subject of an examination by peers) during which parents used smartphones to record interactions with their babiesbefore, during and after they put masks.Although babies noticed when their parents put a mask - they briefly changed with facial expression, diverted the gaze or showed the mask of the finger - they then continued to interact with their parents as before before.According to Edward Tronick, the mask only blocks one communication channel.The parent who wears a mask continues to say: "I interact with you, I'm still there for you, I'm still in contact with you".

Facial masks also do not seem to interfere that much with the perception of emotions or language.According to a study published last May, two -year -old children were still able to understand the words pronounced by adults wearing an opaque facial mask.Children "compensate for information deficits more easily than we think," says the main author of the study, Leher Singh, psychologist at the National University of Singapore.American researchers have found that, even if the facial masks made the perception of the emotions of adults more difficult for school age - about as difficult as when adults wore sunglasses - children were still, forMost capable of making specific deductions."Children can use many other clues to distinguish feelings from others, such as vocal expressions, bodily expressions and context," explains the study author, Ashley Ruba, researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pregnant and stressed

During this period, other lines of research were carried out to find out if the pandemic could affect the development of children before their birth.Catherine Lebel, a psychologist who heads the Development Neuro-Imaging Laboratory at Calgary University in Canada, and her colleagues interviewed more than 8,000 pregnant women during the Pandemia.Almost half of them have declared to feel symptoms of anxiety, while a third party had symptoms of depression - a much higher percentage than in the years preceding the pandemic.How did this stress affect babies in the uterus?

In order to answer this question, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brain of babies three months after their birth.In an article published in pre -impression last October, they found that babies born of people who reported greater prenatal distress - more symptoms of anxiety or depression - presented different structural connections between their amygdal, a region of the brainInvolved in the treatment of emotions, and their prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for executive functions.

Several research had already found similar associations between prenatal pandemic stress and child development.Livio Provenzi, psychologist at the IRCCS Mondino Foundation in Pavia, Italy, and his colleagues observed that three -month -old babies who said they had suffered more stress and anxiety during their pregnancy had more difficulty regulating their emotionsAnd their attention - they were less able to maintain their attention on social stimuli, for example, and were less easily peaceful - than babies of people who were less stressed and less anxious during their pregnancy.

These hypotheses do not overly worry children's development specialists.They note that these phenomena do not mean that children will have difficulties in the rest of their lives, as their brain is elastic and adaptable to this age.Research on babies victims of a pandemic offer a mixed table, and scientists say it is too early to draw significant interpretations.

Nevertheless, even if the brain of children is really affected by the pandemic, it is still time to put it back on the right track, notes Ms. Dumitriu."We can completely prevent this from becoming an emergency in public health," she said."The brain of six -month -old children is very plastic, and we can enter it and change their trajectory".

Parents can make them make progress by playing and speaking regularly with their young children, and by giving them the opportunity to play with others in a safe setting.Policy changes to support families and children could also make a difference.Researchers also argue in favor of interventions aimed at supporting families immediately after birth.Research has shown that people who had just given birth and who were visiting nurses and neonatologists at home felt less stress and anxiety than those who did not receive these visits.

Overall, researchers say that most children will probably get out of it, but that they may be more numerous than usual to experience difficulties.And if we want to support those who are late, the ideal would be to intervene quickly."Children are certainly very resilient," observes Professor Deoni."But at the same time, we also recognize the importance of the first 1,000 days of the life of a child, which constitute the first crucial bases.The first pandemic babies, born in March 2020, are, at this stage, over 650 days.

Source: Nature

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