Background and objective: HIV-exposed infants are a priority group at-risk for oropharyngeal dysphagia (OPD), yet little is known of their oral-motor functioning during feeding in infancy. This study aimed to compare the oral-motor function for feeding of six-to-twelve month old HIV-exposed infants, to that of HIV-unexposed infants, and to determine whether distinctive oral-motor difficulties existed in the HIV-exposed group.
Materials and methods: The oral-motor function during feeding of 75 infants aged six-to-twelve months was evaluated once by a Speech-Language Therapist, using the Schedule for Oral Motor Assessment. Data was collected prospectively at a baby-wellness clinic within a low-resourced community. Participants were separated into two groups, according to HIV-exposure status (30 HIV-exposed and 45 HIV-unexposed participants) and subdivided according to age range (six-to-eight and nine-to-twelve months). Significant differences between groups were determined using inferential statistics.
Results: Neither group presented with oral-motor dysfunction, or OPD, but the research group (RG) displayed a greater number of difficulties across the food consistencies used. HIV-exposure was strongly associated with the sum of difficulties experienced with semi-solids; solids; chewable solids; soft-bite crackers; and cup-drinking. Within the six-to-eight month range, no significant differences were found in oral-motor performance of the groups. In the nine-to-twelve month range, the RG displayed greater difficulty when cup-drinking, demonstrating greater liquid loss; choking; and struggling to smoothly coordinate sucking/chewing and swallowing.
Conclusion: Older HIV-exposed infants showed more oral-motor difficulties than the younger group, displaying a risk for developing OPD. Oral-motor deficits may become more apparent in older HIV-exposed infants, when the demands for feeding require more advanced oral-motor skill. Further research is required.