NFL Concussion Symptoms Tied to Cognitive Function Decades Later

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Players with concussion symptoms performed worse on cognitive tests as they aged.

Former National Football League (NFL) players who experienced concussion symptoms during their playing careers performed worse on cognitive tests later in life, cross-sectional data showed.

Retrospectively reported concussion symptoms were associated with worse performance on a battery of tests that assessed episodic memory, sustained attention, processing speed, and vocabulary nearly 30 years later, reported Laura Germine, PhD, of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and co-authors.

The results emphasize the importance of tracking concussion symptoms in research, not just diagnosed concussions, Germine and colleagues noted. They also shed light on how professional football careers might affect cognitive aging.

“It is well established that in the hours and days after a concussion, people experience some cognitive impairment. However, when you look decades out, the data on the long-term impact have been mixed,” Germine said in a statement.

“These new findings from the largest study of its kind show that professional football players can still experience cognitive difficulties associated with head injuries decades after they have retired from the sport,” she noted.

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