NFL Players' Concussion Symptoms Tied to Cognitive Functioning Decades Later

However, number of diagnosed concussions, length of playing career not tied to later cognition

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FRIDAY, March 3, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Former professional football players who reported experiencing concussion symptoms during their career perform worse on cognitive tests decades later compared with nonplayers, according to a study published online March 2 in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.

Roger W. Strong, Ph.D., from the Institute for Technology in Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and colleagues examined the association of several measures of football exposure with later-life cognitive performance. The analysis included 353 former professional football players (mean age, 54.3 years) and 5,086 male nonplayer participants.

The researchers found that former players' cognitive performance on episodic memory, sustained attention, processing speed, and vocabulary was associated with retrospectively reported football concussion symptoms. However, there was no association observed for diagnosed concussions, years of professional play, or age of first football exposure.

"It is well established that in the hours and days after a concussion, people experience some cognitive impairment. However, when you look decades out, the data on the long-term impact have been mixed," senior author Laura Germine, Ph.D., of the Laboratory for Brain and Cognitive Health Technology at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. "These new findings from the largest study of its kind show that professional football players can still experience cognitive difficulties associated with head injuries decades after they have retired from the sport."

Abstract/Full Text (subscription or payment may be required)

Lori Solomon

Lori Solomon

Medically reviewed by Meeta Shah, M.D.

Published on March 03, 2023

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