NFL players at risk for dementia - Macleans.ca
 

NFL players at risk for dementia

Study marks league’s first admittance of connection


 

Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related diseases occur far more frequently for National Football League players than for the general population: a rate of 19 times what’s normal for men aged 30 to 49, the New York Times reports. Since the NFL has long insisted there’s no reliable data about cognitive decline among its players, this study (which it commissioned) marks its first admittance of any connection, although the league pointed to its limitations. It could bring about some changes at youth and college-level football, which tends to follow NFL safety policies. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, involved a phone survey in which 1,063 retired players (who’d played at least three or four seasons) were asked questions about their health. Some health issues, like kidney and prostate problems, appeared in ex-NFLers at normal rates, but others, like sleep apnea and elevated cholesterol, were higher. Others, including heart attacks and ulcers, were lower, the report said. After asking about “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease,” Michigan researchers found that 6.1 per cent of players aged 50 and over had received such a diagnosis, five times higher than the national average of 1.2 per cent. Players ages 30 through 49 showed a rate of 1.9 percent, or 19 times that of the national average, 0.1 percent. In an email, NFL spokesan Greg Aiello said the study didn’t formally diagnose dementia, was subject to shortcomings of phone surveys, and pointed out that “there are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems.”

New York Times


 
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NFL players at risk for dementia

  1. I have to wonder if they've accounted for the many other factors associated with Alzheimer's. For example, people who read a lot are significantly less likely to have Alzheimer's. Maybe I'm just stereotyping, but I don't see the average linebacker as being much of a bookworm.

  2. As a former college player, I can say to Craig O's comment that most teams have players from all over the spectrum. I've played with guys who went on to be everything from lawn mowers to teachers to doctors.

    If there is a problem, there is also a huge lag time which may or may not have anything to do with the safety of football today. If an ex-player with Alzheimer's is 65 years old today, they played 40 years ago. Remember those old helmets? The sports medical community didn't start taking concussions seriously until the 1980s, and it took until the 1990's for coaches to believe in it.

    • Fair enough, but we're talking ex-NFLers in the study, not ex-college players. I'd just like to see some indication that they accounted for some major risk factors.

  3. A couple of years ago the CBC ran a very interesting story on a medical researcher at Virginia Tech who was looking into the effects that playing football had on the brain. There were some interesting stories from past players – one of whom I think was only 35 or 40 – who had serious problems from concussions, and might have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's (or maybe he was just at high risk of it).

    Given the nature of contact sports, I can't imagine technology of equipment being able to completely eliminate concussions and other head injuries, so really it comes down to whether or not the players are willing to accept the risks of engaging in these activities.

  4. It would indeed be interesting if they can show a strict correlation between head trauma and Alzheimer's. Until now I've only ever heard of genetic and chemical agents as the cause.