A new study finds strong evidence of brain damage in living football players.
For years, researchers struggled to find a direct link between playing football and the devastating brain injury chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has been often diagnosed in former deceased players, but not in the living ones simply because it is only possible to diagnose it after death.
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A new study has found strong evidence of traumatic brain injury in living players too. Using brain scans of 40 retired NFL players, researchers have found that brain damage and impairment is widespread in those who play the game professionally. Almost 40% or 17 of the retired players whom researchers examined showed signs of traumatic brain injury (TBI), an injury which occurs when an external force injures the brain and is often a precursor to the CTE.
“This is one of the largest studies to date in living, retired NFL players and one of the first to demonstrate significant, objective evidence for traumatic brain injury in these former players," said Dr. Francis X. Conidi, a neurologist and lead author of the study. "The rate of traumatic brain injury was significantly higher in the players than that found in the general population.”
This is the largest study to look at the impact of playing football on the brains of living veterans. For the study, researchers scanned the brains of 40 retired NFL players with a powerful scanning technology known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and combined it with memory and thinking skills which had been determined through tests. The average age of the players was 36, and has played an average of 7 years in NFL. A majority of them had been out of the league for less than five years and during their career each had experienced on average of eight concussions.
Researchers have found that 43% of the players had significantly more damage to the brain's white matter than healthy adults the same age which is an indication of traumatic brain injury while most of them also showed signs of learning, memory and concentration problems.
“This research in living players sheds light on the possible pathological changes consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy that may be taking place.” Conidi said.
It is necessary to highlight the potential damage that can occur over time and also to find a way to deal with it.
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“It is clear there are long-term health risks associated with sustaining head injuries," said an NFL spokesman. "Studies of this nature are important to further advancing the science and better understanding these risks."