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Sensory stimulation for apnoea mitigation in preterm infants


Apnoea, a pause in respiration, is ubiquitous in preterm infants and are often associated with physiological instability, which may lead to longer-term adverse neurodevelopmental consequences. Despite current therapies aimed at reducing the apnoea burden, preterm infants continue to exhibit apnoeic events throughout their hospital admission. Bedside staff are frequently required to manually intervene with different forms of stimuli, with the aim of re-establishing respiratory cadence and minimizing the physiological impact of each apnoeic event. Such a reactive approach makes apnoea and its associated adverse consequences inevitable and places a heavy reliance on human intervention. Different approaches to improving apnoea management in preterm infants have been investigated, including the use of various sensory stimuli. Despite studies reporting sensory stimuli of various forms to have potential in reducing apnoea frequency, non-invasive intermittent positive pressure ventilation is the only automated stimulus currently used in the clinical setting for infants with persistent apnoeic events. We find that the development of automated closed-looped sensory stimulation systems for apnoea mitigation in preterm infants receiving non-invasive respiratory support is warranted, including the possibility of stimulation being applied preventatively, and in a multi-modal form.


  • This review examines the effects of various forms of sensory stimulation on apnoea mitigation in preterm infants, namely localized tactile, generalized kinesthetic, airway pressure, auditory, and olfactory stimulations.

  • Amongst the 31 studies reviewed, each form of sensory stimulation showed some positive effects, although the findings were not definitive and comparative studies were lacking.

  • We find that the development of automated closed-loop sensory stimulation systems for apnoea mitigation is warranted, including the possibility of stimulation being applied preventatively, and in a multi-modal form.

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This work was supported by an Australian NHMRC Post-Graduate Scholarship to Dr. Kathleen Lim (#1190694), and an NHMRC Ideas Grant (#118251).

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K.L. conceived and conducted the review (with P.A.D), wrote the first draft of the manuscript and approved the final draft. S.J.E.C., A.B.t.P. and T.J.G provided intellectual input to the review, edited the manuscript and approved the final draft. P.A.D conceived and conducted the review (with K.L.), edited the manuscript and approved the final draft.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter A. Dargaville.

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Lim, K., Cramer, S.J.E., te Pas, A.B. et al. Sensory stimulation for apnoea mitigation in preterm infants. Pediatr Res (2021).

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