Brain Shrinkage Found in Football Players with Concussions

New evidence adds to the controversy over concussions experienced by players in the NFL. Researchers found that football players who suffer concussion with unconsciousness may be at a higher risk of brain shrinkage in the hippocampus of the brain. The findings were published in JAMA Neurology.

Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas monitored 28 retired pro-football players between the ages of 36 to 79. Within this group, 17 had a history of grade 3 (G3) concussions that resulted in loss of consciousness. Eight of the players had a history of concussions that resulted in mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  As a control, 21 healthy individuals ages 21 to 77 with no history of concussion, MCI or football playing also participated, in addition to six people with MCI but no history of concussions.

All participants underwent brain scans and took four memory tests. Retired NFL players with a history of concussion and no MCI scored the worst on the verbal memory test, which required them to remember a list of words, than the control group. However, the results were still categorized as normal. Former NFL players with a history of concussion and MCI scored the worst out of all the groups. Interestingly, no difference was found in between control participants with MCI and football participants with MCI.

When looking at the brain scans, the volume of the hippocampus in retired NFL players with a history of G3 concussion and loss of consciousness was significantly smaller than the control group, and the right hippocampal volume was smaller than former NFL players without a G3 concussion. The former football players with concussion and MCI had a smaller left hippocampal volume than the control group with MCI.

The researchers acknowledged some limitations to the study because they did not have access to the NFL players’ brain scans prior to their concussion experiences. There could also be some discrepancies with self-reported concussions.

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