Oct 1, 2009

The NFLs Dirty Little Secret--Early Onset Alzheimer's at a Young Age

Should the families of football players at the high school, college, and professional level be worried about Alzheimer's and dementia.

Yesterday I wrote about a new report that indicated retired National Football League players suffer from early onset Alzheimer's and dementia at an alarming rate.
A study commissioned by the National Football League found that Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment is appearing in the league's former players at an alarming rate -- 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.
The study was conducted for the National Football League (NFL) by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

The Michigan researchers found that 6.1 percent of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis, five times higher than the national average, 1.2 percent.

It seems that the NFL continues to keep its head in the sand, while retired NFL players suffer.
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Brent Boyd is a good example of the problem. Boyd, a former N.F.L. lineman, began experiencing memory loss and dementia-related symptoms in his 40s.

In Boyd's case the National Football League’s plan-appointed doctor concluded that football “could not be organically responsible for all or even a major portion” of his condition". As a result, Boyd did not receive payments for the condition from the pension plan.
“I can’t tell you how frustrated I am, because I’ve been fighting this for years,” said Boyd, 52, unemployed in Reno, Nev., and taking the prescription drug Aricept for his dementia-related symptoms (Editor note: why isn't he taking the combination of Aricept and Namenda?).
Boyd receives $40,000 per year in disability from the league, far less than the $110,000 he would receive annually if his condition were linked to his seven-year career with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I was told once that the owners would never open up this can of worms — approving any connection between brain injuries with N.F.L. football. Now that claim is clear to any reasonable person. I don’t think there’s any way they can make their case anymore. I’d like to see how they try to weasel out of it this time.”
Gene Upshaw, the former head of the players union who died last year, discouraged any connection in a 2007 interview.
“I think we’re just a reflection of society,” he said, before adding: “I don’t want to take that next leap to say, you know, football caused dementia. I just don’t believe that.”
We all know that Alzheimer's and dementia are hard to diagnose and hard to accept.

The issue for the National Football League is clear--do they try to deny the problem to save money and liability, or is the NFL willing to take an aggressive approach and get to the bottom of this problem now?

One thing is clear, additional studies are necessary to determine the extent of the problem. Will the NFL appoint a commission and drag this out for years while retired players suffer?

Or, will the NFL provide the necessary funding to test the players already suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia to define the extent of the existing problem now?

I suggest that current NFL players get out to their local Alzheimer's day care centers to get a glimpse of Alzheimer's in action. They might want to get educated-fast. They might want to subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room to get some insight into both Alzheimer's and dementia.

Parents of children playing football in high school and college might want to give these findings some serious thought.

The NFL really needs to take a look at helmets.

Current studies show that more than 100 million Americans have been touched by Alzheimer's and one third of Americans are worried about getting Alzheimer's-->100 Million Adults Touched by Alzheimer's.

This number is likely to be much higher for anyone that has played football and for their families.

National Football League Player Care Foundation -- Study of Retired NFL Players. Dementia statistic on page 32 of the report.

Tip of the hat to TraderKevin for sending us the link to this report.

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Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The Alzheimer's Reading Room is the number one website on the Internet for news, advice, and insight into Alzheimer's disease. Bob has written more than 800 articles with more than 18,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, Alzheimer's Reading Room