Last week we talked about a study out of Boston University School of Medicine that showed mild head injuries, including concussions, may be associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease. This week, we’d like to write about a related topic – the risk of developing neurogenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), ALS, and other forms of dementia – in professional athletes, especially those who play football and hockey.
There is an ongoing lawsuit filed by a group of former NFL (National Football League) players in April 2011 that alleges the NFL didn’t do enough to protect their players from the risks of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and hid the risks of head trauma. A proposed settlement was reached in August 2013, but the suit continues. In March, 2016, a new suit was filed that is similar to the first. To date, more than 5000 players are named as plaintiffs in the multiple litigations.
According to NFL player data, 28% of former NFL players will develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. This is a significantly larger percentage than the general population. Analysis Research and Planning Corporation is the actuarial firm that was hired by the NFL players to look into the data. After an in-depth analysis, they found that approximately 14% of former players will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and an additional 14% will be diagnosed with moderate dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 1 in 9 people overall will develop Alzheimer’s disease, which is about 11%. And that number includes people with a history of head injury. The data analysis showed that NFL players have about two times the risk as the general population of developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, ALS, or Parkinson’s disease.
Many NFL and NHL (National Hockey League) players have suffered from, or will suffer from, a type of dementia called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a neurodegenerative brain disease that is characterized by symptoms such as cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, depression, short-term memory loss, difficulty with executive functioning, emotional instability, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts, aggression, speech difficulties, motor impairment, dysphagia, and dementia, among others. Unfortunately, CTE cannot be officially diagnosed until after death (through an autopsy), so the percentage of players who develop CTE may never be fully known.
Spokespeople for the NFL have publicly admitted that they believe there is certainly a link between concussions and CTE. The NHL, on the other hand, has not publicly admitted it. Some NHL players have filed a lawsuit similar to the ongoing suit filed by NFL players. They claim that the NHL hasn’t done enough to warm players about the dangers of head injuries. The players allege they did understand the harm playing hockey could do to their bodies, but they did not know the long-term, life-altering effects of brain trauma they could suffer. The suit claims that NHL teams didn’t provide enough oversite or care to treat concussions and brain injuries, and they promoted violence in the game, including bare-knuckle fights that often involve hits to the head.
The game of hockey is beginning to change. There are fewer fights, and fights are shorter. And hopefully the education about the dangers of head injuries will increase, as will the way head injuries and concussions are handled. In late 2016, members of Congress wrote a letter to the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, that in part said: “Despite this candid discussion …of the dangers of fighting and the related incidence of head injuries, the NHL continues to publicly deny a connection between head injuries and long-term complications, such as CTE.”
Hopefully, as professional athlete lawsuits bring this problem to light, education and research will lead to fewer athlete head injuries (and ultimately fewer athletes experiencing neurodegenerative diseases) and better treatment options when athletes are injured.
At Home Care Assistance, we help clients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia improve the overall quality of their lives. One way we do this is by using our Cognitive Therapeutics Method (CTM), Using CTM, we work to help prevent the onset of cognitive decline in individuals who are cognitively healthy and to slow progression in those who are experiencing some form of mild cognitive impairment. One-on-one, personalized activities that can be done in the comfort of our clients’ homes promote sustained daily functioning and quality of life for individuals who want to take a proactive approach to the long-term brain health.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease on our website.