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Feasibility of a Caregiver Assisted Exercise Program for Preterm Infants

  • Author(s): Gravem, Dana
  • Lakes, Kimberley
  • Rich, Julia
  • Hayes, Gillian
  • Cooper, Dan
  • Olshansky, Ellen
  • et al.
Abstract

Purpose

Mounting evidence shows that low birth weight and prematurity are related to serious health problems in adulthood, including increased body fat, decreased fitness, poor bone mineralization, pulmonary problems, and cardiovascular disease. There is data to suggest that increasing physical activity in preterm infants will have effects on short term muscle mass and fat mass, but we also hypothesized that increasing physical activity early in life can lead to improved health outcomes in adulthood. Because few studies have addressed the augmentation of physical activity in premature babies, the objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of whether caregivers (mostly mothers) can learn from nurses and other health care providers to implement a program of assisted infant exercise following discharge.

Study Design and Methods

Ten caregivers of preterm infants were taught by nurses, along with occupational therapists and other health care providers, to perform assisted infant exercise and instructed to conduct the exercises daily for approximately three weeks. The researchers made home visits and conducted qualitative interviews to understand the caregivers’ (mostly mothers’) experiences with this exercise protocol. Quantitative data included a caregiver’s daily log of the exercises completed to measure adherence as well as videotaped caregiver sessions, which were used to record errors as a measure of proficiency in the exercise technique.

Results

On average, the caregivers completed a daily log on 92% of the days enrolled in the study and reported performing the exercises on 93% of the days recorded. Caregivers made an average of 1.8 errors on two tests (with a maximum of 23 or 35 items on each, respectively) when demonstrating proficiency in the exercise technique. All caregivers described the exercises as beneficial for their infants, and many reported that these interventions fostered increased bonding with their babies. Nearly all reported feeling “scared” of hurting their babies during the first few days of home exercise, but stated that fears were alleviated by practice in the home and further teaching and learning.

Clinical Implications

Caregivers were willing and able to do the exercises correctly, and they expressed a belief that the intervention had positive effects on their babies and on caregiver-infant interactions. These findings have important implications for nursing practice because nurses are in key positions to teach and encourage caregivers to practice these exercises with their newborn babies.

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