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NIOSH: NFL players at risk for brain disorders

September 12, 2012

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Atlanta – Professional football players may be more likely to die from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, according to a study conducted by NIOSH.

Researchers studied 3,493 players who participated from 1959 to 1988 in at least five seasons in the National Football League. The rate of death from neurodegenerative disorders among retired players was 3 times higher than the general population, researchers found. Of the 334 deceased players, 17 had neurodegenerative causes of death. Researchers used death certificate information to determine causes of death.

Additionally, the rate of death for two subcategories of disease – Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) – was 4 times higher than the general population.

Although researchers did not find a direct cause-effect relationship between football-related concussions and neurodegenerative disorders, the institute noted that its findings support other research suggesting players are at higher risk of death from these disorders.

Researchers also found neurodegenerative deaths were more common among players in speed positions, such as quarterback, running back, fullback, safety, wide receiver and linebacker.

The study was published online Sept. 5 in the journal Neurology.

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