Research by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas discovered that cognitive deficits and depression are more common among retired NFL players than in the general population, the Journal of American Medical Association reported Monday — but not as prevalent as you would think.
But researchers from the Center for BrainHealth and from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center say their study, published online today in JAMA Neurology, also is significant for what it did not find: evidence of cognitive impairment in the majority of ex-players.
The JAMA said the study was led by Dr. John Hart Jr., who found that not all players had brain damage despite the beliefs of many.
“Many former NFL players who took part in our study, even those with extensive concussion histories, are healthy and cognitively normal,” said Dr. John Hart Jr., medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth and director of the BrainHealth Institute for Athletes that was created to address the long-term effects of sports-related traumatic brain injuries. “In 60 percent of our participants — most of whom had sustained prior concussions — we found no cognitive problems, no mood problems and no structural brain abnormalities. Many former NFL players think that because they played football or had concussions, they are certain to face severe neurological consequences, but that is not always the case.”
Cross-sectional sample of former NFL players with and without a history of concussion recruited from the North Texas region and age-, education-, and IQ-matched controls. Thirty-four retired NFL players (mean age, 61.8 years) underwent neurological and neuropsychological assessment. A subset of 26 players also underwent detailed neuroimaging; imaging data in this subset were compared with imaging data acquired in 26 healthy matched controls.
The NFL released a statement on the study:
We appreciate the interest shown by The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas in this important subject. We will promptly share this report with members of our Head, Neck and Spine Committee and look forward to following up with the authors to discuss both this report and further research that can be undertaken. The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the CDC, NIH, and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of medical and scientific research that will promote player safety in the long term.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor