Playing in the NFL Quadruples the Risk of Alzheimer’s

By | September 17, 2012

Adding to the drumbeat of worries about football and brain injuries, the science journal Neurology just published a study of over 3,000 retired NFL players that points to a 400% increased risk of Alzheimer’s and ALS, compared to the general population. What makes the risk of brain deterioration in these retired players even more striking is the fact that they are far less likely to die from other causes such as heart disease, compared to the rest of us.

The Neurology study provided an interesting differentiation of football “speed players” (quarterbacks, running backs, halfbacks, fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs, safeties and linebackers), and “non-speed players” (defensive and offensive linemen). It turns out that the speed players had a statistically higher risk of brain disease compared to the non-speed players.

This makes sense, since a combination of a high number of hits to the head + high magnitude shocks likely contribute to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as the primary cause of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases in retired NFL players.

As we have mentioned before, the NFL can be viewed as a multi-billion dollar entertainment franchise with mounting legal and financial risks. It will be interesting to see where this topic leads us over the next few years.