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Monday, July 18, 2011

NFL Football Players May Be More Susceptible to Alzheimer's and Dementia


"It appears that there may be a very high rate of cognitive impairment in these retired football players, compared to the general population."

Alzheimer's Reading Room

The study reported at AAIC 2011 looked at former American (NFL) football players to gain insight into how sports-related head injuries might impact risk for Alzheimer's or cognitive decline.

Christopher Randolph
Loyola University Medical Center
"It appears that there may be a very high rate of cognitive impairment in these retired football players, compared to the general population," Randolph said. "These findings support the hypothesis that repetitive head trauma from many years of playing American football may result in diminished brain reserve, and lead to the earlier expression of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as MCI and Alzheimer's. However, additional studies are necessary to confirm this conclusion. These results should be considered preliminary."


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Mild Cognitive Impairment in Former NFL Football Players

It has been suggested that retired American football players may be at increased risk for late-life cognitive disorders. This has not yet been definitively established.

Christopher Randolph, PhD, Clinical Professor of Neurology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago and colleagues compared the likelihood of decline in cognitive function, including MCI, among retired American football players and older adults who had not played professional sports.

In 2001, all retired NFL players who belonged to the NFL Players' Association (n=3,729) were mailed a general health survey. In 2008, an additional survey specifically focusing on memory issues (including an Alzheimer's screening questionnaire known as the AD8) was sent out to all players over age 50 who responded to the first survey.

A total of 513 follow-up surveys were returned with the AD8 completed by both the former player and his spouse. The mean age of all the players who responded was 61.

Just over 35 percent of respondents had an AD8 score that suggested possible dementia.

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By comparison, according to the Alzheimer's Association 2011 Facts and Figures report, of Americans aged 65 and over, one in eight (13 percent) has Alzheimer's.

The researchers used this follow-up survey data to identify former players with probable MCI. After additional telephone screening interviews to confirm likely cognitive change, eligible respondents were brought in for extensive testing at the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The researchers compared the neuropsychological test results for the former athletes to those of two other groups with no background playing professional sports: (1) 41 demographically similar adults with no cognitive changes and (2) a clinical sample of 81 people diagnosed with MCI.

The researchers found that the former athletes were clearly impaired compared with the demographically similar nonathletes. Since the two groups were similar except for the athletes' professional sports background, this finding suggests that football may have played a role in the athletes' impairment.

The athletes with MCI had test results similar to the other adults with MCI, except the athletes were slightly less impaired.

The athletes were also significantly younger, on average, than their nonathlete counterparts with MCI.

"It appears that there may be a very high rate of cognitive impairment in these retired football players, compared to the general population," Randolph said. "These findings support the hypothesis that repetitive head trauma from many years of playing American football may result in diminished brain reserve, and lead to the earlier expression of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as MCI and Alzheimer's. However, additional studies are necessary to confirm this conclusion. These results should be considered preliminary."

-- Christopher Randolph, PhD, et al. Characterization of Mild Cognitive Impairment in Retired NFL Players. (Funders: Martek Bio Sciences, NFL Players Association)

Source ICAD

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room