Although low birth weight is the principal cause of neonatal mortality and neurological disorders in infants, many abnormalities are not diagnosed before the second year of life. Yet a number of the disorders respond best to early treatment.
Because evoked potentials (EPs) can provide objective information without patient cooperation, some investigators are using them to detect neurological dysfunction in low-birth-weight and other high-risk infants.
The most successful applications so far have been in screening for neonatal auditory and visual disorders, particularly common among infants of low birth weight. As many as 6% to 39% of these infants have significant refractive errors in the first few years of life compared with less than 2% of normal infants. Six percent to 20% suffer from strabismus compared with about 0.1% to 3% of normal infants. And 2% to 12% of low-birth-weight infants suffer from hearing disorders, compared with 0.25% of normal infants.