Study finds evidence of brain injury in living NFL veterans

Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:10pm EDT
 
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By Frank McGurty

(Reuters) - More than 40 percent of retired NFL players tested with advanced scanning technology showed signs of traumatic brain injury, a much higher rate than in the general population, according to a new study of the long-term risks of playing American football.

The research, presented at an American Academy of Neurology meeting that began in Vancouver on Monday, is one of the first to provide "objective evidence" of traumatic brain injury in a large sample of National Football League veterans while they are living, said Dr. Francis X. Conidi, one of the study's authors.

Conidi, a neurologist at the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and a faculty member at the Florida State University College of Medicine, said traumatic brain injury was often a "precursor" to CTE, a degenerative brain disease.

"What we do know is that players with traumatic brain injury have a high incidence of going on to develop neurological degenerative disease later on in life," Conidi told Reuters.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has been found in dozens of the NFL's top players after they died. At present, a CTE diagnosis is only possible after death.

The brain tissue of 59 or 62 deceased former NFL players examined by Boston University's CTE Center have tested positive for CTE, according to its website. The disease, which can lead to aggression and dementia, may have led to the suicides of several NFL athletes, including Hall of Famer Junior Seau.

In the new study, the largest of its kind, 40 living former players were given sensitive brain scans, known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), as well as thinking and memory tests.

"No one has ever looked at this number of (living) players before," Conidi said.   Continued...

 
A new impact absorbing helmet is displayed at the NFL Headquarters in New York December 3, 2015.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid