Exploring women’s understanding of Down syndrome screening information presented at booking appointment (MPhil/PhD study)

With the rapid increase in gene discovery, new ways for detecting genetic abnormalities are being discovered and testing is becoming quicker and cheaper. At present, technological advances are being made in the way Down syndrome can be screened in pregnancy and these will eventually initiate screening changes in the UK. Public understanding of genetics is variable across the UK and each woman will have a different requirement for screening information. The term cognitive ability encompasses a whole set of mental processes that humans possess, such as attention, memory, intelligence, problem solving, reasoning etc. Cognitive ability plays a role in how people process the world around them. Therefore it is proposed that cognitive ability may influence how women understand Down syndrome screening information. It is important that information is tailored to a woman’s cognitive ability to aid their understanding.

This research is designed to reveal women’s understanding of Down syndrome screening information presented by midwives in antenatal booking appointments, and whether this is linked to their cognitive ability and the midwives’ communicative style. I have developed a new communication framework to dismantle the components of communication and how these influence understanding through possible mediating factors of cognitive ability. Currently there are no frameworks which incorporate all these communication measures and cognitive ability.

The aim of the research is to indicate whether, to what extent and how cognitive ability and the midwives’ communicative style influences comprehension of genetic screening information. This research is important in highlighting the way that women understand antenatal screening information to ensure full comprehension in order to make an informed decision regarding whether to have Down syndrome screening or not. I hope that any results gained from this research will aid the formulation of a series of recommendations which may help inform the way Down syndrome information is presented in antenatal screening appointments.