Whether long-term occupational exposure to organic solvents may affect mental and cognitive functioning later in life, remains unclear. In this study, twelve rotogravure printers formerly exposed to toluene and 19 referents, all initially examined in the mid-1980s, were reexamined after twenty years, applying neuropsychological tests, symptoms and social interaction questionnaires, medical examination, and exposure assessment of each individual's cumulative exposure. By far the most extensive exposure, mainly toluene, had occurred before 1985. The printers were found to have deteriorated more than their referents in cognitive functioning affecting reasoning and associative learning. No relevant additional exposure during the lengthy time period between assessments could explain this discrepancy. In addition, printers performed significantly worse than the referents in verbal memory and sustained attention at follow-up, where also a dose-effect relationship was noted for reasoning. While the printers did not report more subjective cognitive complaints than the referents, a slightly higher depression score was noted for the printers. The findings of significantly worse deteriorations in cognitive functioning in previously toluene-exposed printers are in line with our hypothesis that sub-clinical deficits during the working life may become manifest later in life, indicating that exposure may in fact interact with ageing. However, considering the small study groups the results must be interpreted with caution.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.