Objective. Because the survival rate has increased for extremely low birth weight neonates, many have raised the concern that the rate of developmental disability among survivors will also increase. To address this concern, we analyzed changes over time in survival and major neurosensory impairment in a sample of extremely low birth weight infants born between July 1, 1979, and June 30, 1994.

Methods. The study sample included 513 infants with birth weights of 501 to 800 g who were cared for in either of the two neonatal intensive care units that serve a 17-county region in northwest North Carolina and who were born to mothers residing in that region. At 1 year of age (corrected for gestation), survivors were examined by a pediatrician and were tested using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. Major neurosensory impairment was defined as cerebral palsy, a Bayley Mental Developmental Index <68, or blindness. A total of 209/216 (97%) of survivors were examined at 1 year of age. Epoch of birth was defined as follows: epoch 1, July 1, 1979 to June 30, 1984; epoch 2, July 1, 1984 to June 30, 1989; and epoch 3, July 1, 1989 to June 30, 1994.

Results. Survival rates for epochs 1, 2, and 3 were, respectively, 24/120 (20%), 63/175 (36%), and 129/218 (59%). In contrast, the proportions with a major neurosensory impairment did not increase over time; rates for successive epochs were 6/24 (25%), 17/61 (28%), and 26/124 (21%). Rates of cerebral palsy were 3/24 (13%), 12/61 (20%), and 9/124 (7%); rates of delayed mental development were 4/24 (17%), 12/61 (20%), and 17/124 (14%); and rates of blindness were 2/24 (8%), 0/62, and 5/124 (4%), respectively.

Conclusions. This analysis suggests that the increasing survival of extremely low birth weight neonates since the late 1970s has not resulted in an increased rate of major developmental problems identifiable at 1 year of age.

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