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Is concussion scare in sports just a lot of hype?

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With all of the recent concern about the danger of concussions in contact sports – especially in cities like San Francisco with pro football teams – a new study seems to largely debunk all the hype. So, before pulling your kids out of contact sports, consider the facts. With all due respect to Junior Seau, Cookie Gilchrist, Wally Hilgenberger, John Mackey, and other NFL players who may have suffered from CTE, it may or may not have been caused by playing football.

The study titled “Modern Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Retired Athletes: What is the Evidence?” by Stella Karantzoulis, PhD, of the New York University School of Medicine and clinical neuropsychologist Christopher Randolph, PhD, of Loyola University Medical Center appeared in the journal Neuropsychology Review and showed only limited evidence of any link between sports concussions and later mental impairments.

The study points out, for example, that the suicide rate among the more the 3,439 NFL players included in the largest CTE study to date was substantially LOWER than the general population. “Given that suicidality is described as a key feature of CTE, this finding is difficult to reconcile with the rates of CTE that have been speculated to occur in these retired athletes…,” say the authors. “It is likely that there are a diverse set of risk factors for suicidality (e.g. life stress, financial difficulty, depression, chronic pain, drug abuse) in retired athlete…”

Other studies (including by Randolph) show that even the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment among retired NFL players – a precursor to Alzheimer’s – was virtually the same as for non-athletes with the same symptoms.

“There are currently no carefully controlled data…to indicate a definitive association between sport-related concussion and increased risk for late-life cognitive and neuropsychiatric impairment of any form.”

For more complete details of the study, refer to Loyola Medicine.

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