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Study: Football Players at Higher Risk for Brain Diseases

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Taylor Jackson5 years ago

A recent study found that NFL athletes are four times as likely as other men their age to die of Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Study Shows Brain Damage Risk is High

Professional football players are the subject of a new study, published by the journal Neurology, that explores brain diseases and their effects, the Los Angeles Times reported.

  • The study tracked 3,439 retired NFL athletes with five or more seasons in the NFL. 
  • The athletes were four times as likely as other men their age to die of Alzheimer’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 
  • “Speed players” – players known for building substantial speed before a tackle – had an even greater risk.
  • These results contrasted sharply to a finding that NFL veterans are half as likely to die at any age as their counterparts.

What Causes the Increased Brain Damage?

  • The study found that head injuries and concussions in football games were the main causes. Even when wearing helmets, the speed and force of impact cause irreversible damage.
  • The blows contribute to depression, memory loss, and other neurological issues.
  • The study of 3,439 athletes ended up with 1,116 dying during the study period, only 27 were found to have a neurodegenerative disease (like Alzheimer’s), and 9 died from Alzheimer’s or dementia, and 13 from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s). The numbers might seem small but compared to the average population they’re much higher.

Connection to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a buildup in proteins seen in the autopsied brains of former athletes who played a wide range of contact sports. The study raises concerns about CTE.

CTE may have been the true primary or secondary factor in some of these deaths,” authors of the study said.

What is the NFL Doing to Help?
  • The NFL has been sued by almost 3,400 players over claims of brain damage and increased chances of brain diseases.
  • The NFL has changed its health standards after studies revealed how much damage the players have. An independent neurologist must evaluate players with concussions before they can go back out on the field.
  • The NFL is also contributing $30 million to the Foundation for National Institutes of Health to support research into mental illness in athletes and the general population. It was the largest donation to a single organization in the NFL’s history.
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