Debbie Nicholson

New research reveals pro football players may be at higher risk of death from neurodegenerative disease

In May, it was reported a lawsuit was filed against the NFL for "repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury" and "downplayed and misrepresented the issues, and misled the players concerning the risks associated with concussions."

View slideshow: Sports figures with neurodegenerative disease

This morning the news breaks that researcher from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati finds that football player may be facing a higher risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and CTE may be the primary or secondary factor for these deaths.

This cohort mortality study included 3,439 National Football League players with an average of 57 years and had at least five playing seasons from 1959 to 1988. Researchers reviewed death certificates for cause of death from the neurodegenerative diseases of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. For examination purposes players had been placed in two groups that were based on aspects of the positions played; non-speed players (linemen) and speed players (all other positions except punter/kicker). The general population was used for comparison purposes

The research had revealed that professional football players had three times more likely higher risk of death from diseases that damage the brain cells in comparison to the general population. For players the risk of death from Alzheimer’s disease or ALS was nearly four times higher than the general population. Among the players in the study 343 had died with seven having Alzheimer’s disease and seven players with ALS. The risk of death from Parkinson’s disease was not any more remarked than the general population.

In an internal analysis researchers had found that speed position players had three times greater risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease compared to non-speed player positions. In this study 62# of the players were in speed positions.

The researchers had written in their conclusion “These results are consistent with recent studies that suggest an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease among football players.”

Everett J. Lehman, MS, author of study states "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."

This study appears in the September 5th online issue of Neurology®

Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University currently has dozens of athletes who are donating their brains.

In May of last year, Dr. Ann McKee from CSTE had publicly announced that Duerson had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disorder linked to repeated brain trauma. Dr. McKee said that Duerson‘s CTE was “indisputable.” Dave Duerson had committed suicide last year from a gunshot to the chest.

New England Patriot’s player Ted Johnson who is donating his brain to CSTE had been quoted according to the New York Times 2008 stating the following “I’m not being vindictive. I’m not trying to reach up from the grave and get the N.F.L. But any doctor who doesn’t connect concussions with long-term effects should be ashamed of themselves.”

For more information on neurodegenerative diseases can be found online at Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases.