Concussions and AD

Contributed by: Michael Rafii, M.D., Ph.D - Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of California, San Diego. ______________________________________

Former professional football players suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other memory-related conditions at rates far higher than the general population, a new study commissioned by the National Football League shows. Retired players between the ages of 30 and 49 are 19 times more likely to struggle with memory problems than similarly aged men who never played professional football, the study found. The findings could have implications that reach far beyond the National Football League. Head injuries are not uncommon among college and high school players.

The new study of former pro players has not been peer-reviewed, but the results mirror several other recent studies suggesting a link between dementia and head injuries. The results of the study, conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, were first reported by The New York Times this past September.

For the NFL survey, the Michigan researchers contacted 1,063 retired players by phone late last year. The players, who had to have played at least three seasons to qualify for the survey, were asked a series of questions on a series of topics, including questions on health, financial well-being and satisfaction with life. Most of the questions came from the standard National Health Interview Survey. That way, answers could be compared to previously collected data from the general population. In some cases, a player's wife answered the questions. The Michigan researchers found that, among players aged 50 and older, 6.1% of them said they had received a dementia-related diagnosis -- five times higher than the national average of 1.2%. Players between the ages of 30 and 49 had a dementia-related diagnosis rate of 1.9% -- 19 times higher than the national average of 0.1%, according to the survey.

The management of concussions has been a major area of research in the field of neurology the last few years, with the American Academy of Neurology having published guidelines on its management in the past year. Much more work is needed to identify the mechanism by which the concussion brings about the changes seen in AD, and where intervention is needed.

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