Neuropsychological assessment of an aging population of great lakes fisheaters

Susan L. Schantz, Anne M. Sweeney, Joseph C. Gardiner, Harold E.B. Humphrey, Robert J. McCaffrey, Donna M. Gasior, K. R. Srikanth, Marvin L. Budd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because of the decline in central nervous system function that occurs with age, older people may be at greater risk of neurological dysfunction following exposure to neurotoxic contaminants in the environment. This study wasdesigned to assess the neuropsychological functioning of a group of 50-90- year-old fisheaters exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) through Great Lakes fish consumption, and a group of age- and sex-matched nonfisheaters selectedfrom the Michigan Department of Public Health's established cohort of fisheaters and nonfisheaters. A neuropsychological assessment battery, demographic interview, and fish consumption questionnaire were developed and piloted on similarly aged men and women in the Lansing and Detroit, Michigan, areas. The assessment battery included tests of motor function, memory and learning, executive functions, and visual-spatial functions, and took approximately two hours to administer. Most of the tests included in the battery have been shown to be sensitive to subtle, age-related declines in cognitive and motor function. The demographic questionnaire included questions on a number of important control variables that could influence the neuropsychological end points that were assessed in the study. These included demographic background, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, prescription and nonprescription drug use, medical history (including psychiatric illnesses), employment history, and activity level. The fish consumption questionnaire asked about historical and current consumption of specific fish species from each of the Great Lakes and its tributaries and was based on the fish consumption advisories published in the 1992 Michigan Fishing Guide. The questionnaire also asked about consumption of wild game, fish preparation and cooking methods, serving size, and changes in fish consumption patterns over time. After each subject completed the neuropsychological assessment, demographic interview, and fish consumption questionnaire, a blood sample was collected for analysis of PCBs, dichloro diphenyl dichloroethene (DDE), and ten other contaminants frequently detected in Great Lakes fish. Subject recruitment for the study began in July 1993 and was completed in November 1995. The data will be analyzed in two steps: first, to assess differences in confounding variables between fisheaters and nonfisheaters; and secondly, to determine the independent effects of Great Lakes fish consumption, as well as serum PCB and DDE levels, on cognitive and motor function after controlling for all identified covariates. Three indices of PCB exposure—total PCBs, total ortho-substituted PCBs and total coplanar PCBs—will be assessed. These studies should shed light on three questions: 1) Does consumption of contaminated fish from the Great Lakes exacerbate or accelerate the normal age-related decline in cognitive and motor function? 2) Do serum PCB or DDE concentrations predict the degree of behavioral dysfunction? and 3) If PCB exposure is related to behavioral outcomes, which class of PCB congeners, ortho-substituted or coplanar, are responsible for the cognitive and motor deficits?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-417
Number of pages15
JournalToxicology and Industrial Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1996


  • DDE
  • HCB
  • PBB
  • PCB
  • WAIS-R
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales-Revised
  • dichloro diphenyl dichloroethene
  • hexachlorobenzene
  • polybrominated biphenyl
  • polychlorinated biphenyl

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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