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Shift Work Speeds Brain Aging

Update Date: Nov 04, 2014 04:24 PM EST

Bartenders, nurses, watchmen and builders who work at night have older brains, according to a new study. Previous studies reveal that shift work interferes the body's internal clock, and can lead to many health conditions like ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer.

Researchers in the latest study wanted to explore how shift work influences our brains. Researchers used data from 3,000 people who were either working in a wide range of sectors or who had retired, at three time points: 1996; 2001; and 2006. Participants were aged exactly 32, 42, 52 and 62 at the time of the first set of cognitive tests. A total of 1,197 people were assessed at all three time points.

Researchers found that people who worked shifts scored significantly lower on memory, processing speed, and overall brainpower than those who had only worked normal office hours.

Additional analyses revealed that people who had worked shifts for ten or more years scored lower on global cognitive and memory scores, which reflected a 6.5 years of age related cognitive decline.

The good news is that stopping shift work can help boost cognitive abilities. The study revealed that people who stopped shift work for at least five years performed the same on cognitive tests, except for tests on processing speeds.

"The cognitive impairment observed in the present study may have important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society as a whole, given the increasing number of jobs in high hazard situations that are performed at night," researchers noted, according to a news release.

"It was quite a substantial decline in brain function, it is likely that when people trying to undertake complex cognitive tasks then they might make more mistakes and slip-ups, 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," said researcher Dr. Philip Tucker, according to BBC.

The findings are published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

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