Investigators of an ongoing study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting found 42.5% of retired National Football League players evaluated had evidence of traumatic brain injury as indicated by diffusion tensor imaging MRIs, demonstrating players had a significantly higher incidence of traumatic brain injury compared with the general population.
“This is one of the largest studies to date in living retired [National Football League] NFL players and one of the first to demonstrate significant objective evidence for traumatic brain injury [TBI] in these former players,” study author Francis X. Conidi, MD, DO, of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and Florida State University College of Medicine, said in a press release from the American Academy of Neurology. “The rate of traumatic brain injury was significantly higher in the players than that found in the general population.”
Conidi and colleagues prospectively analyzed 40 retired NFL players with a mean age of 35.85 years. Investigators conducted neurological history/examinations and extensive neuropsychological evaluations of the players. Investigators also performed conventional and advanced neuroimaging studies using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) MRIs. Players with a positive finding for TBI had fractional anisotropy measures 2.5 standard deviations below age-matched norms, according to the study abstract.
Results showed players played for an average of 7 years and had an average of 8.1 concussions. Investigators noted players reported 12 sub-concussive hits. All former NFL players had normal neurological exams, according to information in the abstract. There were 17 players with positive findings using DTI MRIs.
Results from neuropsychological testing showed there were significant abnormalities with regard to attention, concentration, executive function, learning/memory and spatial/perceptual ability. Conidi and colleagues found an association between the number of years played and positive DTI; however, no association was found between years played and positive results on conventional MRI.
“We found that longer careers placed the athletes at a higher risk of TBI,” Conidi said. “This research in living players sheds light on the possible pathological changes consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy that may be taking place.” ‒ by Monica Jaramillo
Conidi FX, et al. Paper #5. Presented at: American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting. April 15- 21, 2016; Vancouver, Canada.
Disclosure: Conidi reports he is a member of the American Academy of Neurology.