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Original research
Cumulative exposure to psychosocial stressors at work and global cognitive function: the PROspective Quebec Study on Work and Health


Objectives Psychosocial stressors at work have been proposed as modifiable risk factors for mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This study aimed to evaluate the effect of cumulative exposure to psychosocial stressors at work on cognitive function.

Methods This study was conducted among 9188 white-collar workers recruited in 1991–1993 (T1), with follow-ups 8 (T2) and 24 years later (T3). After excluding death, losses to follow-up and retirees at T2, 5728 participants were included. Psychosocial stressors at work were measured according to the Karasek’s questionnaire. Global cognitive function was measured with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. Cumulative exposures to low psychological demand, low job control, passive job and high strain job were evaluated using marginal structural models including multiple imputation and inverse probability of censoring weighting.

Results In men, cumulative exposures (T1 and T2) to low psychological demand, low job control or passive job were associated with higher prevalences of more severe presentation of MCI (MSMCI) at T3 (Prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% CIs of 1.50 (1.16 to 1.94); 1.38 (1.07 to 1.79) and 1.55 (1.20 to 2.00), respectively), but not with milder presentation of MCI. In women, only exposure to low psychological demand or passive job at T2 was associated with higher prevalences of MSMCI at T3 (PRs and 95% CI of 1.39 (0.97 to 1.99) and 1.29 (0.94 to 1.76), respectively).

Conclusions These results support the deleterious effect of a low stimulating job on cognitive function and the cognitive reserve theory. Psychosocial stressors at work could be part of the effort for the primary prevention of cognitive decline.

  • epidemiology
  • longitudinal studies
  • aging
  • occupational stress

Data availability statement

The data underlying this article cannot be shared publicly for the privacy of individuals that participated in the study. The data will be shared on reasonable request to the corresponding author with permission of the Comité d’éthique de la recherche du CHU de Québec-Université Laval.

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