Objectives: To examine to what extent exposure to organic solvents during the working life affects general well-being in the long term, and to explore the relationship between self-reported symptoms and cognitive functioning in previously solvent-exposed floor layers.
Methods: The study included 41 solvent-exposed floor layers and 40 unexposed referents participating in a longitudinal follow-up study 18 years after the baseline assessment. Symptom prevalence and level of spare time activities were studied using the same methods as in the initial study. These include a general health examination, the Q16 symptom questionnaire, and a questionnaire for spare time activities. Relationships between symptoms and cognitive functioning were analysed based on recently published data on cognitive functioning of the participants at follow-up.
Results: At follow-up neuropsychiatric symptoms such as need to check things, depressive mood, and abnormal fatigue, were more prevalent among floor layers, particularly the most exposed individuals, than among referents. In addition, the most highly exposed floor layers reported more concentration difficulties and irritability. Fatigue and depressive mood increased over the follow-up time in the most exposed floor layers but not in the referents. Memory difficulties, although more frequent among floor layers than among referents, had decreased in floor layers while increased in referents. Floor layers also reported some negative effects on intimate relations and activity level. Neuropsychiatric symptoms were related to poorer performance chiefly in memory tasks and tests of complex attention and perceptual speed, more seldom in visuospatial tasks.
Conclusions: Findings of exposure-related, long-lasting, partly deteriorating neuropsychiatric complaints indicate that general well-being later in life has been affected in floor layers with past heavy solvent exposure. We also found frequent associations between symptom prevalence and the cognitive functioning. Together with previous findings of dose-related cognitive decrements, the present results strengthen the evidence that long-term heavy occupational solvent exposure may negatively interact with the normal ageing process.