Thursday, July 2, 2009

Left-handed people have long put up with the challenges presented by a right-handed world, but now a new study has found that left-handed people die younger than their right-handed counterparts.

Researchers from California States University and the University of British Columbia found that right-handed females live six years longer and right-handed males live 11 years longer than left-handed people.

“The results are striking in their magnitude,” said Diane Halpern, a psychology professor at California State University at San Bernardino who was one of the principal researchers.

The study is the first trial large enough to accurately assess why there are fewer left-handed people among the elderly population than right-handed. The research also concluded that left-handed people were four times more likely to die from injuries while driving than right-handers and six times more likely to die from accidents.

“Almost all engineering is geared to the right hand and right foot,” Halpern said. “There are many more car and other accidents among left-handers because of their environment.”

Peg Simmons, 29, a graduate student in English at New York University said, “These are important studies to have out because it might actually make automotive companies make cars more user friendly for left-handers. We will see how the study changes anything.”

For the trial, Diane Halpern and Stanley Coren, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, looked at death certificates of 987 people in two Southern California counties. Relatives of the deceased were queried by mail about the subjects’ dominant hand.

“We knew for years that there weren’t as many old left-handers,” Halpern said. “Researchers thought that was because in the early years of the century, most people born left-handed were forced to change to their right hands. So we thought we were looking at old people who used to be left-handed, but we weren’t. The truth was that there simply weren’t many left-handers left alive, compared to right-handers.”

The study was conducted last year and appears in last Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

"Some of my best friends are left-handed,” Although previous left-handed studies have been conducted on whether there was a gene that determined what hand a baby would be born with, the results of these studies have produced mixed results. “It’s important that mothers of left-handed children not be alarmed and not try to change which hand a child uses,” she said, “There are many, many old left-handed people.”

For some, being left-handed isn’t a problem. Josh Freeland, 28, a left-handed trader from New York City said “Outside of not being able to find left-handed baseball gloves and having to reverse notebooks around, I can't think of too many problems that I've encountered.”

Left-handed women die around age 72; right-handed women die around age 78. Left-handed men die about age 62, right-handed men die about age 73. Halpern said her study should be interpreted cautiously. “It should not, of course, be used to predict the life span of any one individual. It does not take into account the fitness of any individual.”

“Being a lefty really does not worry me. I eat right, exercise, and I am an alert driver,” said Simon Rodriquez, 28, a San Francisco based freelance writer, “There are far worse things to be than left handed. I’m glad that’s all that is wrong with me.”