Study of retired NFL players finds evidence of brain damage

June 29, 2012 By Maureen Salamon, HealthDay Reporter
Study of retired NFL players finds evidence of brain damage
In tests, they had higher rates of depression, memory deficits and 'white matter' damage.

(HealthDay) -- Tests performed on a group of retired NFL players revealed that more than 40 percent suffered from problems such as depression and dementia, adding to a growing pile of evidence that repeated sports-related head traumas can lead to lasting neurological issues.

Analyzing 34 ex-professional football players (average age 62) on benchmarks such as memory, reasoning, problem-solving and behavior, researchers from the Center for at the University of Texas at Dallas found that 20 tested normal while the rest suffered from depression, various deficits in memory/thinking or a combination of these issues. Twenty-six of the players also underwent .

"We picked up that many guys were depressed but didn't know it," added study author Dr. John Hart, medical science director at the center. "The cognitive impairments . . . were more than what's expected for their ages. A lot had damage to their brain's , so for us it's a real clue or marker to look for."

Hart is scheduled to present the findings Friday at the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) annual meeting in St. Louis. Research presented at scientific meetings should be considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

An estimated 300,000 sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year, and mounting attention is being paid to the neurological toll of those injuries on former professional athletes. In June, a massive bundle of lawsuits representing more than 2,100 players was filed against the league, claiming that the NFL hid information linking football-related head injuries to permanent .

Hart's study involved ex-NFL athletes hailing from the North Texas region. For comparison purposes, the researchers also looked at the brains of 26 people with no signs of mental deficits, selected from the general population and matched for age, education and IQ.

Of the eight former players who were found to have depression -- the finding that most surprised Hart -- most didn't exhibit the mood issues such as sadness that are typically associated with the condition, he said.

Instead, "there was a lack of energy, initiative or sex drive and disrupted sleep, with weight gain or loss," Hart said. "They would ruminate or get anxious about stuff, but they weren't crying. They were shocked or surprised [at the finding], because they didn't think they had symptoms at all."

The results highlight the need to actively inquire about depressive symptoms among those who have suffered concussions, Hart said. Additionally, it's important to "let the brain rest and heal" following concussions instead of charging back onto the field -- which opens players to a phenomenon known as "second-impact syndrome." The brain can swell catastrophically when a second concussion occurs before symptoms of the first have abated.

Promoting a healthier approach to concussion recovery will take the cooperation of players, coaches, parents and even teachers at the high school or college level, who need to understand that even the mental exertion required in the classroom can be detrimental to getting better, added Paul J. Krawietz, director of the athletic training education program in the department of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"The testing and note-taking can exacerbate symptoms or make them worse if a student comes back too soon," Krawietz said. "People know symptoms can be made worse by physical exertion, but often they don't think about the cognitive component, that thinking can make things worse."

Explore further: Female and younger athletes take longer to overcome concussions

More information: Find out more about sports-related concussions at the University of Pittsburgh.

Related Stories

Female and younger athletes take longer to overcome concussions

May 8, 2012
New research out of Michigan State University reveals female athletes and younger athletes take longer to recover from concussions, findings that call for physicians and athletic trainers to take sex and age into account ...

Retired NFL players at higher risk for mild cognitive impairment

July 18, 2011
Retired NFL football players are at higher risk for mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer's disease, a Loyola University Health System study has found.

Brain autopsies of four former football players reveal not all get chronic traumatic encephalopathy

July 26, 2011
Preliminary results from the first four brains donated to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre, TorontoWesternHospital, reveal that two of the four former Canadian Football League (CFL) ...

Recommended for you

Study: Poor health is a less common cause of bankruptcy than commonly thought, but it brings other economic woes

March 21, 2018
A team of researchers led by an MIT economist has found that medical expenses account for roughly 4 percent of bankruptcy filings among nonelderly adults in the U.S.

Medical expansion has improved health—with one exception

March 21, 2018
While Americans debate the rising cost of health care, a new study of 30 countries over 27 years found that medical expansion has improved overall health - with one major exception.

Study finds bad sleep habits start early in school-age children

March 21, 2018
Bad sleep habits in children begin earlier than many experts assume. That's the takeaway from a new study led by McGill University researchers. The findings suggest that official sleep guidelines for young school children ...

Forgetting details, getting the gist may prompt false memories in older adults

March 21, 2018
Older adults often complain about forgetting, but Penn State psychologists suggest that another problem may be misremembering.

Research study encourages hospitals to reduce number of paper documents created

March 20, 2018
After collecting nearly 600 kilograms of papers from recycling bins at five Toronto hospitals, researchers at St. Michael's Hospital found 2,687 documents containing personal health or other information that should instead ...

Limiting shifts for medical trainees affects satisfaction, but not educational outcomes

March 20, 2018
Limiting first-year medical residents to 16-hour work shifts, compared to "flexing" them to allow for some longer shifts, generally makes residents more satisfied with their training and work-life balance, but their training ...


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.