Dangerous driving

What may seem obvious to any good driver can now be backed up by statistics: dangerous drivers are more likely to hit children on their way to school.

Researchers from York University, the University of Toronto, and The Hospital for Sick Children camped out in front of schools during their morning drop-off hours, measuring pedestrian traffic and scanning the road for hazardous driving habits. Their observations were compared with 12 years of police data on pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions (PMVCs) near Toronto elementary schools. The study revealed that collisions involving children happen more often near schools with dangerous driving trends.

The most common offense? Of the 118 schools studied, 88 per cent displayed instances of unsafe parking and improper drop-offs, such as children being released from the wrong side of the street. Trends were higher in schools near high-speed roadways. Researchers urge the city to employ new strategies to alleviate traffic around school zones.

— Alastair McNamara


Study shows depression affects alertness more than lack of sleep

A new study lead by Azmeh Shahid of the Sleep Research Laboratory in U of T’s Department of Psychiatry is the first of its kind to connect depressive symptoms with impaired alertness.   

The researchers used the Toronto Hospital Alertness Tests (THAT), a scale asssessing alertness, to evaluate 60 healthy adults against 264 diagnosed patients. The participants’ average score (on a scale of zero to 50) was around 35 for the control group. A score below 20.5 is the cut-off point for THAT and it indicates “clinically significant” decreases in levels of alterness.   

This cut-off was used to define the patients as either having “normal” or “impaired” alertness. The results showed that daytime sleepiness is not the same as poor alertness, and that depressive symptoms like fatigue had a stronger effect on alertness levels than tiredness. 

Dr. Shahid said the results of the study “did not surprise” the research team, as other clinical patients have been observed to experience daytime sleepiness and alertness at the same time. 

Dr. Shahid explained the results of the study are “very exciting” because THAT can be used to differentiate alertness from sleepiness, which can aid in future studies. The first quantitative definition of “normal levels of alertness” was proposed by the study, but more research is still needed to solidify this definition. 

“I think this will have huge impact in clinical practice,” Dr. Shahid added.

— Sophia Savva 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

With the loonie sinking and the world economy sputtering, it is hard not to worry about world issues. A new study warns against worrying too much, lest our brains turn to mush. 

Dr. Linda Mah of the University of Toronto and her colleagues examined recent studies of stress and anxiety in animal models and healthy individuals. Surprisingly, they found that chronic stress and anxiety can cause long-lasting damage in the brain.

Stress is a normal part of life, but if anxiety becomes chronic, it can lead to the degeneration and impairment of the brain’s hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The former is known to play an important role in memory and the regulation of emotions, while the latter has been associated with personality distinction.   

The stress-induced damage to these parts of the brain leads to increased risk for depression and even dementia. 

The study concludes on a hopeful note by suggesting that stress-induced damage is “not completely irreversible.” Antidepressant treatment and physical activity may reverse brain damage, as these treatments have been found to increase the rate of hippocampal recovery. Either way, don’t worry about your worrying.

— Hariyanto Darmawan