I have been closely following the research on traumatic brain injuries in NFL players. Consequently, I am not surprised but still very alarmed by the details of a new study by the American Academy of Neurology. It shows what has long been suspected: former NFL players are four times as likely to die of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS.
One surprise finding of the study was that the player’s position affected their likelihood of developing a neurodegenerative disease. Football players in speed positions – like running backs – were even more likely to than linemen to die from diseases that affect the neurons in the brain.
The study of nearly 3500 retired NFL players did not consider a player’s history of concussions or other head injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been following this group of players for well over a decade; all played at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988. It seems unlikely that concussions were correctly diagnosed and treated during much of that time.
CTE- chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disorder, was recently linked to several deceased NFL players who sustained serious head injuries during their careers. CTE has some commonalities with Alzheimer’s and ALS, but there is not enough research for conclusive links. It is, however, increasingly evident that repeated brain traumas are in
some way associated with these neurodegenerative diseases.
The health and safety of professional football players, including the risk of concussions and brain and spine injuries, has been an ongoing issue for retired athletes. The NFL is currently being sued by over 2000 former players who say the league knew about the dangers of concussions, and withheld information about effects of repeated head injuries. The league denies this claim, and maintains that medical experts are still trying to determine the long-term effects of concussions.