NFL players with career-long concussion symptoms show reduced cognitive performance decades after retirement – ScienceDaily

Former professional football players who reported experiencing concussion symptoms during their playing careers performed worse on a battery of cognitive tests than non-players, according to a study led by Mass General Brigham researchers at McLean Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. The results of the study will be published on March 2n.din the yearArchives of Clinical Neuropsychologyy.

Of 350 former National Football League (NFL) players studied an average of 29 years after their playing careers, those who reported concussion symptoms during their careers scored worse on assessments of episodic memory, sustained attention, processing speed, and processing speed. dictionary. However, the number of concussions diagnosed by a medical professional or length of playing career did not appear to affect cognition.

A follow-up analysis compared ex-players to more than 5,000 male volunteers from the general population who had not played professional football, and found that cognitive performance was generally worse for ex-players than for non-players. While young ex-players outperformed non-players on some tests, older retired players performed worse than controls on cognitive tasks.

The researchers who led the study said their results underscore the importance of monitoring concussion symptoms for concussions diagnosed in the study. This work also adds evidence to the potential impact of a professional football career on accelerating cognitive aging.

“It’s well established that people experience some cognitive impairment in the hours and days after a stroke. However, when you look back decades, the data on the long-term impact has been mixed,” said lead study author Laura Germine. Ph.D., director of the Brain and Cognitive Health Technology Laboratory at McLean Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “These new findings from the largest study of its kind show that professional soccer players may still experience cognitive difficulties associated with head injuries decades after they retire from the sport.”

Concussion symptoms related to cognitive performance

For the study, 353 retired NFL players completed one-hour neuropsychological tests using an online platform called TestMyBrain, which is supported by McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Players underwent fully remote testing and completed tests on a laptop or desktop computer, including assessments measuring aspects of processing speed, visuospatial and working memory, and aspects of short- and long-term memory and vocabulary.

Recalled concussion symptoms were measured by asking players, after hitting their head in a game or practice, how often they experienced any of the following symptoms: headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of consciousness, memory problems, disorientation, confusion, seizure. , vision problems or feeling restless on your feet. They were also asked if they had lost consciousness during their career, and if a professional doctor had diagnosed a concussion.

The results showed that the former players’ cognitive performance (eg, on memory tasks) was associated with recalled football concussion symptoms. For example, the observed differences in visual memory scores between former players with the highest and lowest concussion symptoms were equivalent to the differences in cognitive performance between a 35-year-old and a 60-year-old average.

However, poor cognitive performance was not associated with diagnosed concussions, years of professional play, or first exposure to soccer. Many head injuries or concussions under concussions go undiagnosed as concussions because of a lack of awareness at the time or because the players underestimated the symptoms, the researchers noted.

When the retired players were compared to a group of 5,086 men who did not play soccer, cognitive performance was generally worse for the former players. In both tests of processing speed, age-related differences in cognitive performance were greater in the ex-gamers group than in the non-gamers group, with older gamers performing worse.

These comparative data suggest that exposure to soccer may accelerate age-related cognitive decline and cause greater disadvantages in older adults, according to the researchers, who add that more research is needed to track the cognitive performance of former players with age. Another possibility is that improved awareness and management of head injuries may have saved younger retired players more than older ones. The researchers also note that this comparative finding is limited by the lack of data on cognition before head injury, and that more research is needed with former players and non-players and measuring their lifetime cognitive performance.

“For both former players and researchers, we can draw some important conclusions from this study,” said Ross Zafonte, principal investigator of the DO Football Players Health Study. “Former players can protect their cognitive health as they age by taking proactive steps and continuing to consult with their providers and educate themselves on the symptoms of head injury. For researchers and providers, these findings support efforts to improve diagnosis and develop ways to define long-term sequelae of concussion.” Zafonte is president of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Mass General Brigham sports medicine physician, and Earle P. and Ida S. Charlton Professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

“The Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach taken in this study is where this field is headed,” said Germin. “We are grateful to the players and how much they have taught us. A study like this would not have been possible without engaging and deeply involving their community.”

Research powered by input from former NFL players

The Harvard University Football Players Health Study, launched in 2014, is a comprehensive research program aimed at examining the multifactorial causes that influence the health of former NFL players. The players themselves reported on the research, and gave their input on the health concerns and conditions they face after their football career. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Harvard University and Harvard Medical School and affiliated teaching hospitals, including those in the Mass General Brigham system, conduct research in neurology, cardiology, sports medicine, rehabilitation medicine, chronic pain, and public health. While concussions and head injuries are the main concerns, the study examines all aspects of player health throughout their lives. Former players can find important resources to support their health in this section of the research website.

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