NFL players at risk for dementia

Study marks league’s first admittance of connection

Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related diseases occur far more frequently for National Football League players than for the general population: a rate of 19 times what’s normal for men aged 30 to 49, the New York Times reports. Since the NFL has long insisted there’s no reliable data about cognitive decline among its players, this study (which it commissioned) marks its first admittance of any connection, although the league pointed to its limitations. It could bring about some changes at youth and college-level football, which tends to follow NFL safety policies. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, involved a phone survey in which 1,063 retired players (who’d played at least three or four seasons) were asked questions about their health. Some health issues, like kidney and prostate problems, appeared in ex-NFLers at normal rates, but others, like sleep apnea and elevated cholesterol, were higher. Others, including heart attacks and ulcers, were lower, the report said. After asking about “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease,” Michigan researchers found that 6.1 per cent of players aged 50 and over had received such a diagnosis, five times higher than the national average of 1.2 per cent. Players ages 30 through 49 showed a rate of 1.9 percent, or 19 times that of the national average, 0.1 percent. In an email, NFL spokesan Greg Aiello said the study didn’t formally diagnose dementia, was subject to shortcomings of phone surveys, and pointed out that “there are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems.”

New York Times

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