S u m m a r y :
Football players tend to suffer from degenerative brain disease, says new research. This would be the result of frequent brain injuries sustained when playing the game.
Brain Autopsy of Football Players
The brains of American football players donated after their death show signs of degenerative brain disease during the lives of their owners. The findings add to the bulk of research suggesting that numerous brain injuries (like concussions) from football are linked with the disease.
Football & Brain Disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Upon examining the brains of a group of 202 deceased football players, the researchers of a JAMA paper found that 177 of them had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is known to result in cognitive decline as well as behavioural problems.
The recently-published study shows that 99% of men (110 of 111 of them) who were in the National Football League (NFL) team had suffered from the disease. Another sampling shows that 3 of 14 high school players also displayed the same problem. Add yet another group of 48 of 53 college players to the group.
Troubling Results: CTE Is Very Common Among Players
It is to be noted that these players only showed signs of the brain disease without all of them necessarily having experienced chronic traumatic encephalopathy. But, it is believed that they might have had symptoms of the disease; the authors think that the families of these players might have witnessed some of the signs, which prompted them to donate their brains to research. So, the results remain worrisome, write the authors.
“The fact that chronic traumatic encephalopathy was so common adds to our concern about the safety of playing football and the risk of developing neurologic symptoms later in life,” says neurologist Gil Rabinovici from the University of California.
More Years Playing, More Severe Disease
This trend has been seen in previous studies as well. The author of a 2008 paper, behavioral neurologist Jesse Mez of Boston University School of Medicine, explains that the disease appears to become more severe with an increasing number of years spent as a football player. Mez and colleagues had found that 95 of the 110 diagnosed players had experienced a severe form of the condition.
However, the symptoms reported by the players themselves when they were alive are very similar to each other, regardless of the severity of the disease. Both severe and mild cases involved behaviour problems like impulsivity, anxiety, and depression. Mez does point out a difference though: dementia was recorded for severe cases more than for mild ones.
Further Research: Prevention
Now, the researchers want to determine how common CTE is in the NFL by detecting the disease in patients. Meanwhile, however, Rabinovici says that the focus should be on preventing concussions and similar injuries sustained when practising sports.