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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Oct 19;(10):CD010382. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010382.pub2.

Non-pharmaceutical management of respiratory morbidity in children with severe global developmental delay.

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Physiotherapy Department, Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK.



Children with severe global developmental delay (SGDD) have significant intellectual disability and severe motor impairment; they are extremely limited in their functional movement and are dependent upon others for all activities of daily living. SGDD does not directly cause lung dysfunction, but the combination of immobility, weakness, skeletal deformity and parenchymal damage from aspiration can lead to significant prevalence of respiratory illness. Respiratory pathology is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality for children with SGDD; it can result in frequent hospital admissions and impacts upon quality of life. Although many treatment approaches are available, there currently exists no comprehensive review of the literature to inform best practice. A broad range of treatment options exist; to focus the scope of this review and allow in-depth analysis, we have excluded pharmaceutical interventions.


To assess the effects of non-pharmaceutical treatment modalities for the management of respiratory morbidity in children with severe global developmental delay.


We conducted comprehensive searches of the following databases from inception to November 2013: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED) and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL). We searched the Web of Science and clinical trials registries for grey literature and for planned, ongoing and unpublished trials. We checked the reference lists of all primary included studies for additional relevant references.


Randomised controlled trials, controlled trials and cohort studies of children up to 18 years of age with a diagnosis of severe neurological impairment and respiratory morbidity were included. Studies of airways clearance techniques, suction, assisted coughing, non-invasive ventilation, tracheostomy and postural management were eligible for inclusion.


We used standard methodological procedures as expected by The Cochrane Collaboration. As the result of heterogeneity, we could not perform meta-analysis. We have therefore presented our results using a narrative approach.


Fifteen studies were included in the review. Studies included children with a range of severe neurological impairments in differing settings, for example, home and critical care. Several different treatment modalities were assessed, and a wide range of outcome measures were used. Most studies used a non-randomised design and included small sample groups. Only four randomised controlled trials were identified. Non-randomised design, lack of information about how participants were selected and who completed outcome measures and incomplete reporting led to high or unclear risk of bias in many studies. Results from low-quality studies suggest that use of non-invasive ventilation, mechanically assisted coughing, high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO), positive expiratory pressure and supportive seating may confer potential benefits. No serious adverse effects were reported for ventilatory support or airway clearance interventions other than one incident in a clinically unstable child following mechanically assisted coughing. Night-time positioning equipment and spinal bracing were shown to have a potentially negative effect for some participants. However, these findings must be considered as tentative and require testing in future randomised trials.


This review found no high-quality evidence for any single intervention for the management of respiratory morbidity in children with severe global developmental delay. Our search yielded data on a wide range of interventions of interest. Significant differences in study design and in outcome measures precluded the possibility of meta-analysis. No conclusions on efficacy or safety of interventions for respiratory morbidity in children with severe global developmental delay can be made based upon the findings of this review.A co-ordinated approach to future research is vital to ensure that high-quality evidence becomes available to guide treatment for this vulnerable patient group.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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