Thursday, September 21, 2017

Early Exposure to Football May Have Long-Term Behavioral Consequences

A neuropsychiatric assessment of former football players has found that those who began playing the sport before the age of 12 were more likely to report symptoms of depression and apathy decades later than those who started playing after they turned 12.

This association was independent of the players' current age, duration of football play, or history of learning disabilities, suggesting that age of first exposure to football is an independent risk factor for behavioral problems. The findings were published Tuesday in Translational Psychiatry.

This analysis included 214 former amateur (high school and college players) and professional football players who were part of an ongoing study called the Longitudinal Examination to Gather Evidence of Neurodegenerative Disease (LEGEND). As part of the LEGEND study, these players were asked to take a series of annual cognitive and mood tests, including the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT), Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Adult Version, Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, and the Apathy Evaluation Scale.

When the investigators, led by Robert Stern, Ph.D., of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, divided the group based on age of first exposure (AFE) to football, they found that players with an AFE <12 had about twice the odds of having worse scores on their executive function and apathy tests, and three times the odds of elevated depression scores. There were no significant effects on overall cognition as measured with BTACT. 

Stern and colleagues did caution that while there was a robust group-level difference, there was a wide range of scores at an individual level and many players with an AFE <12 were normal. 

The findings suggest that “[y]outh exposure to football may have long-term neurobehavioral consequences,” the authors wrote. “Future longitudinal studies that objectively monitor the clinical function of youth football players throughout life, including those who do not go on to play football at the high school, college, or professional level, are ultimately needed to understand the long-term neurological safety implications of youth tackle football.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Study Finds High Prevalence of CTE, Other Disorders in Former Football Players.”

(Image: iStock/fredrocko)


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