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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 7:52 EDT

Memory Trouble for NFL Players?

July 18, 2011

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — All those hits to the head may have a lasting impact on football players. A new study shows retired NFL players are at a higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Individuals with MCI have trouble with memory, language or another mental function. While these problems are often apparent to the patient and others, they are not severe enough to interfere with everyday life.

Researchers screened 513 retired players and their wives with a survey. They found 35 percent of the players had scores suggesting possible MCI. The average age of the players was 61.

“It appears there may be a very high rate of cognitive impairment in these retired football players, compared to the general population in that age range,” neuropsychologist Christopher Randolph, Ph.D., was quoted as saying.

A subset of the players was further screened by telephone and underwent a more extensive evaluation at a medical facility. These players were compared to two groups of nonathletes: 41 adults with no cognitive changes and 81 adults with MCI.

The impairments of retired players on neuropsychological tests were very similar to those exhibited by patients with MCI. The retired athletes with MCI were much younger and slightly less impaired overall than the group of nonathletes with MCI.

Previous animal studies have suggested that blows to the head can kill brain cells, even if the hit is not hard enough to cause a concussion. Recent studies have shown the average college football player receives more than 1,000 blows to the head with a magnitude greater than 10 g-force.

SOURCE: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2011 in Paris