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What is the evidence for less shift work tolerance in older workers?

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This paper explores the suggestion that older people would be less tolerant to shift work. Field studies on age-shift work interaction effects on sleep, fatigue, performance, accidents and health were reviewed. Studies on age-shift (morning, afternoon, night) and age-shift system (roster) interactions were also reviewed. In nine studies, shift and day workers were compared and interactions with age were addressed. Two studies reported more problems in older people, four studies reported opposite results, while in five studies no significant age-shift work interaction was observed. From across-shift comparisons (six studies), it was deduced that older compared with younger workers have more sleep problems with night shifts, while the opposite is true for morning shifts. This review did find some differences between older and younger workers, but did not find evidence for the suggestion of more shift work problems in older workers. Statement of Relevance: This systematic review reveals the limited evidence that exists concerning shift work tolerance in older workers, highlighting an area for future research. Some interactions between age and shift type and shift system have been found, however. In view of these, it is argued that age-specific aspects should be considered in shift work planning.
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Keywords: ageing; health; performance; shift work; sleep

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: TNO, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands 2: TNO, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands,VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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