Subjective cognitive complaints and permanent work disability: a prospective cohort study

Minna Pihlajamäki, Heikki Arola, Heini Ahveninen, Jyrki Ollikainen, Mikko Korhonen, Tapio Nummi, Jukka Uitti, Simo Taimela

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Purpose: Work disability (WD) is a medico-legal concept that refers to disability benefits (DB) granted due to diseases. We assessed whether subjective cognitive complaints (SCC)—presenting as self-rated difficulties of concentration, memory, clear thinking, and decision making—predict permanent WD in knowledge-intensive occupations. Methods: In this prospective cohort study with up to 7-year follow-up, we combined the SCC questionnaire results with reliable registry data on the DBs of 7161 professional/managerial employees (46% females). We excluded employees who were on long-term sickness absence (SA) or had received a DB at baseline. The exposure variable was the presence of SCC. Age and SA before the questionnaire as a proxy measure of general health were treated as confounders and the analyses were conducted by gender. The outcome variable was a granted DB. The cumulative incidence function illustrates the difference between SCC categories, and the Fine-Gray model estimates the predictors of WD during the 8-year follow-up. Results: The annual incidence of DB was 0.15% in the entire cohort: 0.18% among the females, and 0.12% among the males (p = 0.795). The most common primary reasons for permanent WD were mental (36%) and musculoskeletal (20%) disorders. SCC predicted DB in both genders when controlling for age and prior SA. Hazard ratios were 2.9 with a 95% confidence interval 1.4–6.0 for the females and 3.7 (1.8–7.9) for the males. Conclusion: Subjective cognitive complaints predict permanent WD in knowledge-intensive occupations. This finding has implications for supporting work ability and preventing work disability among employees with cognitively demanding tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)901–910
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Cumulative incidence function
  • Disability retirement
  • Fine-Gray model
  • Occupational health care
  • Register data
  • Self-reported data
  • Subjective cognitive complaints

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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