To assess for the presence of cognitive impairment and depression in aging former NFL players, and identify neuroimaging correlates of these dysfunctions.
Comparison of aging NFL players with cognitive impairment and depression to those without these dysfunctions and with matched healthy controls
Research center in the North Texas region of the United States.
We performed a cross-sectional study of retired professional football players with and without a history of concussion recruited from the North Texas region, along with age-, education-, and IQ-matched controls. We studied thirty-four retired NFL players (mean age 62) neurologically and neuropsychologically. A subset of 26 also underwent detailed neuroimaging; imaging data in this subset were compared to imaging data acquired in 26 healthy matched controls.
Main Outcome Measures
Neuropsychological measures, clinical diagnoses of depression, neuroimaging measures of white matter pathology, and a measure of cerebral blood flow (CBF).
Of the 34 participants, 20 were cognitively normal, 4 were diagnosed with a fixed cognitive deficit, 8 with Mild Cognitive Impairment, and 2 with dementia; 8 were diagnosed with depression. Of the subgroup in which neuroimaging data were acquired, cognitively impaired (CI) participants showed greatest deficits on tests of naming, word finding, and visual/verbal episodic memory. We found significant differences in white matter abnormalities in CI players and depressed players compared to their respective controls. Regional blood flow differences in the CI group (left temporal pole, inferior parietal lobule, superior temporal gyrus) corresponded to regions associated with impaired neurocognitive performance (problems with memory, naming and word finding).
Cognitive deficits and depression appear to be more common in aging NFL players compared to controls. These deficits are correlated with white matter abnormalities and changes in regional CBF.