Objective neuropsychological test performance of professional divers reporting a subjective complaint of 'forgetfulness or loss of concentration'

Taylor, C.L.; Macdiarmid, J.I.; Ross, J.A.S.; Osman, L.M.; Watt, S.J.; Adie, W.; Crawford, J.R. and Lawson, A. (2006). Objective neuropsychological test performance of professional divers reporting a subjective complaint of 'forgetfulness or loss of concentration'. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 32(4) pp. 310–317.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.1015


Objective This study attempted to determine whether the higher prevalence of reported "forgetfulness or loss of concentration" among professional divers can be confirmed using objective neuropsychological tests. Secondary aims were to qualify the functional nature of the complaints and to ascertain whether reduced performance was linked to diving history.
Methods in a case-control study, the neuropsychological test performance of divers complaining of moderate or severe "forgetfulness or loss of concentration" was compared with two age-matched control groups reporting no or slight "forgetfulness or loss of concentration" ("nonforgetful" divers and "nonforgetful" nondivers). The group differences were analyzed using a multivariate analysis of co-variance, followed by canonical discriminant function analysis. Altogether 102 divers with a complaint, 100 nonforgetful divers, and 100 nonforgetful nondivers completed the study.

Results The overall neuropsychological performance differed significantly between the groups [Pillai's trace: F(24,484)=2.04, P=0.003]. Verbal memory (Logical Memory and the California Verbal Learning Test), current intelligence (Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence), and sustained attention (rapid visual processing) were poorer among the divers with a complaint than among the nonforgetful divers or the nonforgetful nondivers. The tests of memory, but not those of executive function, differentiated the divers with complaints from the two control groups. Mixed gas bounce diving and surface oxygen decompression diving, but not other techniques, were negatively associated with memory performance.

Conclusions A cognitive complaint of divers was confirmed using objective tests of neuropsychological performance. Memory, rather than executive function, was affected at the group level, but only to a mild degree. The relationships between diving experience and neuropsychological test performance were small and only seen with diving techniques used in the offshore oil and gas industry.

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