Executive dysfunction including impaired goal setting (i.e., planning, organization skills, strategic reasoning) is documented in children born very preterm (VP; <30 weeks/<1250 g), however the neurological basis for this impairment is unknown. This study sought to examine the relationship between brain abnormalities and brain volumes on neonatal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and goal setting abilities of VP 13-year-olds. Participants were 159 children born VP in a prospective longitudinal study. Qualitative brain abnormality scores and quantitative brain volumes were derived from neonatal MRI brain scans (40 weeks’ gestational age ± 2 weeks). Goal setting at 13 years was assessed using the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function Systems Tower Test, the Rey Complex Figure, and the Behavioural Assessment of the Dysexecutive System for Children Zoo Map and Six Part Test. A composite score was generated denoting overall performance on these goal setting measures. Separate regression models examined the association of neonatal brain abnormality scores and brain volumes with goal setting performance. There was evidence that higher neonatal white matter, deep grey matter and cerebellum abnormality scores were associated with poorer goal setting scores at 13 years. There was also evidence of positive associations between total brain volume, cerebellum, thalamic and cortical grey matter volumes and goal setting performance. Evidence for the associations largely persisted after controlling for potential confounders. Neonatal brain abnormality and brain volumes are associated with goal setting outcome in VP 13-year-olds. Used in conjunction with other clinical indicators, neonatal MRI may help to identify VP children at risk for later executive dysfunction.
- Brain injury
- Executive function
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Premature birth