Entries in National Football League (2)


NFL Players Risk Death from Alzheimer's Disease, ALS

File photo. Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former National Football League players are more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and ALS, a new study found.

The study of more than 3,400 long-term players between 1959 and 1988 found the risk of death from neurodegenerative disease was triple that seen in the general population, and adds to a burgeoning body of research linking contact sports to chronic brain disease.

"Our results are consistent with those from other studies," said Everett Lehman, an epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati and lead author of the study published today in the journal Neurology. "No one study can make a definitive conclusion about whether concussions cause neurodegenerative disease; the body of literature is what's important."

Of the 334 players who died during the study follow-up, 27 had neurodegenerative diseases that caused or contributed to their deaths, according to the study. The risk of death from Alzheimer's or ALS was nearly four times higher among former NFLers. There was no increased risk of death from Parkinson's disease.

But the players' concussion histories were unknown, raising the possibility that factors other than head trauma might be at play.

"We can't directly link concussions and neurodegenerative disease," said Lehman, explaining how his study relied on death certificates to probe the incidence of neurodegenerative disease. "I think preventing concussions is a logical step to take, but whether that will result in a reduction in chronic neurological disease remains to be determined."

The median age of death from all causes was 54, according to the study.

Previous studies have linked contact sports to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE – a progressive brain disease with features of Alzheimer's, ALS and Parkinson's disease. Lehman said it's possible some of the NFLers in his study had CTE, which can only be diagnosed by a brain autopsy.

"There's no way of knowing," he said. "The symptoms are all very similar."

CTE can also manifest as rage and depression. In February 2011, former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson fatally shot himself in the chest, leaving a note requesting his brain be sent to the "NFL brain bank" for study. He was later diagnosed with CTE. Former San Diego Charger Junior Seau's brain was also donated to the brain bank after his suicide in May. The results are pending.

Growing awareness of the long term impact of concussions has prompted some former NFLers to sue the league, claiming it downplayed the risks. Other players have signed up to donate their brains to research – a gift they hope will bolster concussion research and protect future athletes.

And the NFL today announced it would donate $30 million to support research on medical conditions affecting athletes, including concussions and late-life neurodegenerative diseases.

"We hope this grant will help accelerate the medical community's pursuit of pioneering research to enhance the health of athletes past, present and future," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "This research will extend beyond the NFL playing field and benefit athletes at all levels and others, including members of our military."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NFL, Military Partner to Reduce Concussions

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- They are known as the invisible injuries. They may not result in bruises, breaks, or even loss of limbs, but the results of concussions can be disastrous, leading to severe brain trauma as well as psychological and neurological disorders.

Concussions are injuries that the NFL knows too well. Six out of 10 NFL athletes have suffered concussions and nearly one-third reported having three or more, according to a 2000 study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology. In a more recent study, conducted in 2007 by the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, 20 percent of the retired athletes who recalled having three or more concussions suffered from depression.

But while the consequences are pervasive, the problem is not unique to athletes. For General Raymond T. Odierno, chief of staff for the U.S. Army, concussions are often looked at as lesser injuries and are rarely discussed among his soldiers.

"We have to make them [the soldiers] understand that you have to come forward because it has to be treated," Odierno said.

For this reason, he and the United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) have partnered with the NFL to try and eradicate the stigma associated with head injuries. He met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last month to discuss how a future campaign will play out.

As a former football player himself at West Point, Odierno says there are more similarities than differences between a soldier and an athlete and believes that the partnership will assist in changing attitudes about head injuries.

"There's a lot of things similar to sports and the army: the teamwork, not letting your buddies down, not letting your teammates down, not letting your infantry squad mates down. ... I think part of it is the stigma of not letting your fellow player down or not letting your fellow squad member down," he said.

There have been nearly 230,000 reports of traumatic brain injuries among the soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to military figures. Head injuries have been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and a study done earlier this year found links between head injuries and a degenerative brain disorder known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

While the military puts its troops through rigorous tests before, during and after deployment, it is hoping to pool resources with the NFL to better its technology, improve its marketing, and expand its medical information.

Since Odierno and Goodell's meeting, a group of players, coaches, analysts, and doctors have met at the Pentagon. The first session included Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge. A meeting Friday sat players down with members of the Army and Marines.

Odierno expects for the formal campaign to be launched later this summer.

And while details of practical effectiveness have yet to be seen, Odierno hopes that the shared experiences of the servicemen and women and the athletes can spur collective change.

"I think that if they see somebody they know," he said, whether personally or know him from playing football willing to come forward, willing to say, 'I have a problem,' maybe it will make it easier for him to say he has a problem," he said.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio