Today’s news media are abuzz with reports, and the blogosphere with opinion, about a new phone survey on dementia commissioned by the National Football League. Conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, the survey at this point is neither peer reviewed nor published, but apparently was leaked to The New York Times. According to the Times story, the survey indicates that diagnoses of Alzheimer disease or other memory disorders among 1,063 retired NFL players greatly exceeded the rate expected for their age groups in the general population—by up to 19-fold among men in their forties and fifties and by fivefold among players older than 50. Despite the technical limitations of the study, it represents an acknowledgement by the league that there is a connection.
The survey comes in the wake of pressure from scientific studies and media reports that has been building over the past two to three years. The cumulative evidence, together with some high-profile individual cases, highlighted the need to study the possible risk of long-term neurologic consequences from repeated blows to the head and to institute protective measures. The Alzforum has covered the topic in the news and with a Live Discussion that was attended by, among others, Ira Casson, co-chairman of the NFL’s concussions committee (search for Casson in transcript). Casson in the past has downplayed evidence linking football and dementia. The NFL is conducting its own study; today’s NYT story notes that Dr. Casson is conducting all neurologic examinations in this study.
Newspapers, television stations, and blogs across the country picked up the NYT report. A story in the Baltimore Sun notes that ARF advisor Peter Davies, a leading pathologist in the field of neurodegenerative diseases, played a role in swaying the NFL’s concussion committee to rethink its stance after viewing slides with Bennet Omalu and Julian Bailes, two of the physician-researchers who study the issue (see prior ARF related news story). A story on NBC Miami mentions local NFL players who are deciding to donate their brains and spinal cords to a research program at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (see ARF related news story; LA Times story). And coaches and team doctors outside of professional football are taking sports concussions more seriously, too. On September 15, National Public Radio broadcast a report about schools instituting concussion management programs.—Gabrielle Strobel.
- Sports Concussions, Dementia, and APOE Genotyping: What Can Scientists Tell the Public? What’s Up for Research?
- Butting Heads—Autopsies Fuel Debate on Football and Neurodegeneration
- Research Brief: Athletes’ Brains to Help Map Concussion Effects