Study of Former Notre Dame Football Players Finds College Players More Likely to Have Brain Disorders

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The link between playing football and an increased risk of developing later-life brain disorders like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has received increasing attention over the past 15 years.

While National Football League (NFL) players are more likely to die from CTE and ALS and more likely to report cognitive impairment, behavioral changes and dementia, similar studies of former college football players have not been reported.

In a new study published today in JAMA Network Open, researchers at the Boston University (BU) CTE Center report on the long-term health outcomes and mortality rates of former University of Notre Dame football players who were seniors on the 1964-1980 rosters.

Compared to a representative sample of same age men in the general population, former Notre Dame players were five times more likely to report cognitive impairment diagnoses, two and a half times more likely to report recurrent headaches and 65 percent more likely to have cardiovascular disorders during life, based on health surveys completed by 216 of the 375 (58 percent) former players who are still living.

Consistent with reports of former NFL players, mortality due to degenerative brain disease, specifically Parkinson’s disease and ALS, was higher in the former college players compared to the general population, but the researchers caution that the difference did not reach statistical significance.

Unexpectedly, mortality from brain and other nervous system cancers was almost four times higher in the former college players compared to the general population.

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