Premature Mortality, Risk Factors, and Causes of Death Following Childhood-Onset Neurological Impairments: A Systematic Review
Background: Neurological impairment (NI) and disability are associated with reduced life expectancy, but the risk and magnitude of premature mortality in children vary considerably across study settings. We conducted a systematic review to estimate the magnitude of premature mortality following childhood-onset NI worldwide and to summarize known risk factors and causes of death. Methods: We searched various databases for published studies from their inception up to 31st October 2020. We included all cohort studies that assessed the overall risk of mortality in individuals with childhood-onset epilepsy, intellectual disability (ID), and deficits in hearing, vision and motor functions. Comparative measures of mortality such as the standardized mortality ratio (SMR), risk factors and causes were synthesized quantitatively under each domain of impairment. This review is registered on the PROSPERO database (registration number CRD42019119239). Results: The search identified 2,159 studies, of which 24 studies were included in the final synthesis. Twenty-two (91.7%) studies originated from high-income countries (HICs). The median SMR was higher for epilepsy compared with ID (7.1 [range 3.1-22.4] vs. 2.9 [range 2.0-11.6]). In epilepsy, mortality was highest among younger age groups, comorbid neurological disorders, generalized seizures (at univariable levels), untreatable epilepsy, soon after diagnosis and among cases with structural/metabolic types, but there were no differences by sex. Most deaths (87.5%) were caused by non-epilepsy-related causes. For ID, mortality was highest in younger age groups and girls had a higher risk compared to the general population. Important risk factors for premature mortality were severe-to-profound severity, congenital disorders e.g., Down Syndrome, comorbid neurological disorders and adverse pregnancy and perinatal events. Respiratory infections and comorbid neurological disorders were the leading causes of death in ID. Mortality is infrequently examined in impairments of vision, hearing and motor functions. Summary: The risk of premature mortality is elevated in individuals with childhood-onset NI, particularly in epilepsy and lower in ID, with a need for more studies for vision, hearing, and motor impairments. Survival in NI could be improved through interventions targeting modifiable risk factors and underlying causes.