A Troubling Truth For The NFL

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: September 30, 2009

NEW YORK — Former NFL players have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-related conditions at rates much higher than the national population, according to a study commissioned by the league, the New York Times has reported.

The survey found that 6.1 percent of players aged 50 and older reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis. That’s five times higher than the cited national average of 1.2 percent, according to the report.

And players ages 30 through 49 reported dementia-related diagnoses at a rate of 1.9 percent — 19 times the national average of 0.1 percent, according to the report.

The study would be the first public affirmation by the NFL of any connections between its players and dementia-related conditions, according to the report. For years, the league has denied there is reliable data connecting its players and memory-related conditions.

Dr. Julian Bailes, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine whose own research suggested similar links between football head injuries and dementia, called the latest results “a game-changer,” according to the Times.

“They always say, ‘We’re going to do our own studies.’ And now they have,” said Bailes, a former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to the report.

A summary of the study, which was conducted by a telephone survey of former players in 2008, was sent to league officials earlier this month, according to the report.

Of the 1,625 former players selected at random, 1,063 took part in the survey, which was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

It has yet to be peer-reviewed.

In an e-mail, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the study did not formally diagnose dementia in former players. “There are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems,” he said, according to the report.

“Memory disorders affect many people who never played football or other sports,” Aiello said, according to the Times. “We are trying to understand it as it relates to our retired players.”

Aiello also noted that telephone surveys have shortcomings — a point also raised by the researchers in their summary, according to the report. Dr. Ira Casson, a co-chairman of the league’s concussions committee, said a follow-up study is needed, according to the Times.

“What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out, if it’s really there or not,” Casson said, according to the report.

“I can see that the respondents believe they have been diagnosed. But the next step is to determine whether that is so.” The NFL is conducting its own study of 120 retired players, with Casson conducting the neurological examinations, according to the Times.

The results of that study are expected within a few years.