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Brain Injury Revealed in 40 Percent of Retired NFL Players

More than 40 percent of retired National Football League (NFL) players in a recent study had signs of traumatic brain injury based on sensitive MRI scans called diffusion tensor imaging, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

“This is one of the largest studies to date in living retired NFL players and one of the first to demonstrate significant objective evidence for traumatic brain injury in these former players,” said study author Francis X. Conidi, MD, DO, of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, FL. Conidi is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “The rate of traumatic brain injury was significantly higher in the players than that found in the general population.”

For the study, researchers conducted thinking and memory tests in 40 retired NFL players, along with the brain scans. Twelve of the former athletes, or 30 percent, showed evidence on traditional MRI of injury to the brain due to disruption of the nerve axons, those parts of nerve cells that allow brain cells to transmit messages to each other. On the tests of thinking skills, about 50 percent had significant problems on executive function, 45 percent on learning or memory, 42 percent on attention and concentration, and 24 percent on spatial and perceptual function.

The more years a player spent in the NFL, the more likely he was to have the signs of traumatic brain injury on the advanced MRI.

“We found that longer careers placed the athletes at a higher risk of TBI,” said Conidi. “This research in living players sheds light on the possible pathological changes consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy that may be taking place.”

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Protect your brain…it’s the only one you’ve got. We support athletes and sports, but not at the risk of brain health.

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