Study Reveals Changes in Former NFL Players’ Brains

According to a recent report in the US News and World Report, a small study focused on former NFL players found that about 25% had “mild cognitive impairment.” This means that a quarter of the former players suffered from problems with memory and thinking, a rate higher than what would be seen in the general population.

The study looked the mental function of thirty-four former players and found that they suffered from higher rates of depression and decreased mental function than would normally be the case with men their age who did not play football. The most common problems were issues finding words and poor verbal memory. Four of the former players had substantial cognitive impairment, two had dementia, eight were diagnosed with depression, and three of those with depression also were found to have cognitive issues.

Of the players studied, all but two experienced at least one concussion and the average number of concussions per player was four. The researchers who conducted the study found that the players had more damage to their brain’s white matter than those who never played professional football. The white matter is the part of the brain that is on the inside and connects different gray matter regions. Traumatic head injuries can shake or twist the brain which then stretches or otherwise damages the fragile white matter.

The study also revealed differences in blood flow to areas of the brain that are associated with finding words. These differences in blood flow could be related to the verbal trouble experienced by some of the former players. Doctors say that increased blood flow to these regions indicates that white matter has been damaged and the body is trying to compensate with more blood flow.

The researchers positively connected changes in a person’s white matter with cognitive problems later in life, an important step in understanding what really goes wrong when a player suffers a violent concussion. The hope is that this new research will allow doctors to better diagnose players with problems earlier in life. This early diagnosis will allow physicians to intervene and begin treatment or rehabilitation, either with medications or other exercises. As it stands now diagnosis usually occurs too late to do any good.

The researchers have said that with the use of better, more sophisticated safety equipment during games and longer breaks after an injury, it is hoped that these same problems will not be seen in future generations of players. Whether the NFL is willing to make the kind of commitment needed to stop the trouble from continuing remains to be seen.

Pope McGlamry P.C., currently represents former professional football players for injuries and damages sustained as a result of suffering concussions while playing football, and is actively involved in this litigation. If you or someone you love has been injured by a sports-related concussion, you may be entitled to compensation.


Source: “Brain Changes Found in Small Study of Former NFL Players,” by Carina Storrs, published at


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