It’s football season again, which brings up the topic of concussions (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). New research shows that professional football players may be at a higher risk of death from diseases that damage the cells in the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease and ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), compared to the general US population.
The study included over 3,000 former NFL players with an average age of 57 who played at least five seasons from 1959-1988. Researchers reviewed death certificates for causes of death from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS. At the time of the analysis, only 10% of the participants had passed away.
They found that professional football players in this study were three times more likely to die as a result of diseases that damage brain cells compared to the general population. A player’s risk of death from Alzheimer’s disease or ALS was almost four times higher than the general population. Of the 334 who died, seven had Alzheimer’s disease and seven had ALS. The risk of dying from Parkinson’s disease was not significantly different than that of the general population.
Researcher Everett J. Lehman says, "Although our study looked at causes of death from Alzheimer’s disease and ALS as shown on death certificates, research now suggests that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) may have been the true primary or secondary factor in some of these deaths. A brain autopsy is necessary to diagnose CTE and distinguish it from Alzheimer’s or ALS. While CTE is a separate diagnosis, the symptoms are often similar to those found in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, and can occur as the result of multiple concussions."