Study: Football can damage the body and mind

This week the most comprehensive study of retired NFL players was released. The study was conducted by the University of Michigan on behalf of the NFL. A total of 1,063 retired players were interviewed regarding a variety of sociological and medical topics.

Two major issues discussed in the report concern cardiovascular and neuropsychiatric health.

Although NFL players are larger than average Americans, they are not necessarily fatter. Many continue to remain physically active and have a lower incidence of heart attack, diabetes and stroke than the general population.

But their large size and intense physical activity has lead to increased arthritis and the subsequent need for joint replacement at a young age.

The Michigan study also revealed a rate of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related diseases” 19 times the expected rate for males ages 30 through 49 and 6 times the normal for ages 50 and above. Dementia is best defined as the inability to learn and utilize new information.

A proxy reporter had to be utilized for instances where a player was unable to answer for himself.

“The take-home message from this data is that we must now re-evaluate how football is played,” said Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler and football player whose career was cut short due to multiple concussions. Nowinski now serves as co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. He believes the rules, practice sessions and the age when players begin must all be reconsidered.

Based on this study, the general profile of an NFL retiree is a well-educated, religious man who supports his community. He is physically fit but plagued by arthritic pain.

Unfortunately, he is also much more likely to become cognitively impaired at a young age.

It is the final characteristic that must be addressed immediately.


Unknown said...

This is an interesting study. I think that it is a positive thing to research the effects of these sports and use the results to make changes when necessary. I played football for 10 years and have a son who is just starting(two years earlier than me). One thing I would like to know is what type of helmets the people in the study wore? When I started the helmets were suspension style. Compared to the air helmets we got my junior year in high school the suspension were really bad. I would think that would affect the results. Any thoughts?

Dr. Alessi said...

Thanks for the insightful comment. Although helmet technology has improved over the years, we continue to see a rise in the number of brain injuries. We attribute this to football players becoming bigger and faster. An NFL quarterback can be sacked with the equivalent force of a car moving at 20 MPH.