NFL players may be at higher risk of death from Alzheimer's and ALS

September 5, 2012

New research shows that professional football players may be at a higher risk of death from diseases that damage the cells in the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease and ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), compared to the general U.S. population. The study is published in the September 5, 2012, online issue of Neurology.

The study included 3,439 with an average age of 57 from the with at least five playing seasons from 1959-1988. Researchers reviewed for causes of death from Alzheimer's , Parkinson's disease and ALS. At the time of the analysis, only 10 percent of the participants had passed away.

The research found that in this study were three times more likely to die as a result of diseases that damage brain cells compared to the general population. A player's risk of death from Alzheimer's disease or ALS was almost four times higher than the general population. Of the 334 who died, seven had Alzheimer's disease and seven had ALS. The risk of dying from Parkinson's disease was not significantly different than that of the general population.

To determine if these risks differed by position played, researchers divided the players into two groups: those who played non-line ("speed") positions which included quarterbacks, running backs, halfbacks, fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs, safeties and linebackers, and those who played line ("non-speed") positions, which included defensive and offensive linemen. Speed position players were more than three times more likely to die from a neurodegenerative cause than non-speed position players. A total of 62 percent of the players were in speed positions.

"These results are consistent with recent studies that suggest an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease among ," said study author Everett J. Lehman, MS, with the National Institute for in Cincinnati. "Although our study looked at causes of death from Alzheimer's disease and ALS as shown on death certificates, research now suggests that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) may have been the true primary or secondary factor in some of these deaths. A brain autopsy is necessary to diagnose CTE and distinguish it from Alzheimer's or ALS. While CTE is a separate diagnosis, the symptoms are often similar to those found in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS, and can occur as the result of multiple concussions."

Lehman said the study was limited by the small number of deaths in the analysis.

Explore further: Retired NFL players at higher risk for mild cognitive impairment

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.