Alzheimer's, ALS Death Rates Up for Football Players

Rates of Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis about four times higher than in general population

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Neurodegenerative mortality is about three times higher among retired National Football League players, with Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis mortality even higher, compared to the general U.S. population, according to a study published online Sept. 5 in Neurology.

To analyze neurodegenerative causes of death, Everett J. Lehman, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Cincinnati, and colleagues conducted a cohort mortality study of 3,439 National Football League players with at least five pension-credited playing seasons (1959 to 1988). Vital status was determined through 2007. Players were characterized based on the position they played: non-speed players (linemen) and speed players (all other positions except punter/kicker).

The researchers found that, compared with that of the U.S. population, overall player mortality was reduced (standardized mortality ratio [SMR], 0.53). There was an increased rate of neurodegenerative mortality identified using underlying cause of death rate files (SMR, 2.83) and multiple cause of death (MCOD) rate files (SMR, 3.26). Rates of neurodegenerative causes were elevated (using MCOD rates) for both amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (SMR, 4.31) and Alzheimer's disease (SMR, 3.86). Using MCOD rates, higher neurodegenerative mortality was observed for players in speed positions versus players in non-speed positions (SRR, 3.29; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.92 to 11.7).

"Although the results of our study do not establish a cause-effect relationship between football-related concussion and death from neurodegenerative disorders, they do provide additional support for the finding that professional football players are at an increased risk of death from neurodegenerative causes," the authors write.

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