Neurocognitive Deficits in Children With Chronic Health Conditions

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Abstract

Over 4 million children in the United States suffer from chronic health conditions, including cancer, sickle cell disease, and diabetes. Because of major advances in the early identification and treatment of these conditions, survival rates for these children continue to rise, and the majority now lives into adulthood. However, increases in survival have come with costs related to long-term effects of disease processes and treatments. Foremost among these consequences is impairment in brain development and neurocognitive function that may affect a substantial portion of children with chronic health conditions and follow many into adulthood. Impaired cognitive function may contribute to impairment in educational and occupational attainment, mental health, and quality of life for children with chronic conditions. Despite the significance and scope of this problem, advances in the identification and understanding of neurocognitive problems and the delivery of effective clinical care have been hindered in part because research has been “siloed”—conducted on each chronic condition in isolation. This review examines, for the first time, neurocognitive problems in a selected set of 6 chronic pediatric health conditions—leukemia, brain tumors, sickle cell disease, congenital heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, and traumatic brain injury—to define the magnitude of the problem and identify directions for future research and clinical care. Psychologists from many areas of specialization, including pediatric psychology, educational and school psychology, neuropsychology, behavioral medicine, and adult primary care, are uniquely positioned to contribute to every phase of this work, including research, identification, and intervention.

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