Today’s Headlines: Shift Work, Autism and Life Purpose

Shift work may be bad for your brain. Shift workers often struggle to adjust their sleep schedule to the constant changes of working day and night hours. New research suggests it’s not just their sleep that suffers. Researchers found that “working antisocial hours can prematurely age the brain and dull intellectual ability. A decade of shifts aged the brain by more than six years. While there was some recovery after people stopped working antisocial shifts, it took five years to return to normal.” The brain age was calculated by looking at how well individuals performed on tests at a variety of ages. According to one author, “It was quite a substantial decline in brain function and it is likely that people undertaking complex cognitive tasks make more mistakes and slip-ups when tired. Maybe one in 100 makes a mistake with a very large consequence, but it’s hard to say how big a difference it would make in day-to-day life. I would not do night shifts if I could possibly help it, but they are a necessary evil that society cannot do without.” (BBC)

Changes in diagnosis may account for majority of autism increase. Physicians worldwide have noticed an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism over the last several decades, with many different explanations put forward as to why this might be. A new Danish study might have part of the answer. “At least in Denmark, the researchers say, 60 percent of the increase can be attributed to changes in diagnostic criteria and the inclusion of out-of-hospital diagnoses. These findings should provide some relief for parents who’ve worried that the increase in numbers was caused solely by more kids actually developing the disorder.” Recent changes in the way autism is diagnosed have made doctors better at finding the disorder in children and have broadened the criteria to include more children.  According to one author, “Much of the increase can be attributed to the redefinition of what autism is and which diagnoses are reported. The increase in the observed autism prevalence is not due alone to environmental factors that we have not yet discovered.” (CBS)

Finding meaning in life keeps you healthier. Feeling like you have a purpose in life may be good for your mental well-being, but it’s also good for your body. Past research has found that those with purpose also tend to live longer. New research shows us it has to do with going to the doctor. “After controlling for demographic factors like wealth, education and marital status (which might skew the results), researchers found that having a purpose in life was indeed correlated with greater use of preventive care.” More specifically, “each one-point increase in the ‘sense of purpose’ score increased the likelihood of cholesterol checks by 18% and the odds of having a colonoscopy by 6%. Women with a sense of purpose were 27% more likely to have had a screening mammogram to check for breast cancer and 16% more likely to have a pap smear to check for cervical cancer. Among men, having a sense of purpose increased the odds of getting a prostate exam by 31%.” Those with purpose also spent much less time in hospital. (LA Times)