Patients on sick leave due to work-related stress often present with cognitive complaints. The primary aim of this prospective cohort study was to examine potential long-term consequences of previous ongoing work-related stress in terms of cognitive functioning four years after initial professional care seeking. We tested a group of patients with work-related stress complaints with a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery. Patients were examined at a department of occupational medicine and tested at baseline, one-year follow-up and four-year follow-up. At each time point, we compared the performance of patients with healthy controls matched pairwise on sex, age and length of education. This paper presents the results from the four-year follow-up. Patients improved on their neuropsychological test performance during the four years but the main improvements took place during the first year. At baseline, the main impairments in the patient group concerned executive function and mental speed. At four-year follow-up, patients displayed slightly lower scores on the neuropsychological tests relative to controls but only the difference on immediate memory was significant corresponding to a small effect size (Cohen's d). More than half of the patients who participated in the four-year follow-up reported that they felt only slightly or partially recovered. The level of work participation among the former patients improved considerably during the four-year follow-up period.Lay SummaryThis study examines the long-term consequences of work-related stress in terms of cognitive functioning and recovery four years after initial professional care seeking. After four years, patients continued to display significantly lower memory scores than controls but no other significant differences between the groups were found on neuropsychological tests. Levels of work participation among patients improved considerably over time, yet, more than half of the former patients who participated in the four-year follow-up did not feel completely recovered.
Keywords: Cognitive performance; adjustment disorder; follow-up; improvement; neuropsychological test; occupational stress; work participation.