NFL vets who played tackle youth football may be more likely to struggle with memory and thinking problems as adults, according to a new Boston University study.
The study, published Wednesday in the medical journal for the American Academy of Neurology, tested 42 former professional players whose ages ranged from 40 to 69. Researchers discovered that those who played youth football performed worse in three trials that tested three different areas of the brain, ESPN reported
The tests included estimated verbal IQ; executive function, which includes reasoning and planning; and memory.
"There is an association between participation in tackle football prior to age 12 and greater later-life cognitive impairment measured using objective neuropsychologicaltests," read the conclusion of the Boston University study.
"These findings suggest that incurring repeated head impacts during a critical neurodevelopmental period may increase the risk of later-life cognitive impairment. If replicated with larger samples and longitudinal designs, these findings may have implications for safety recommendations for youth sports," the conclusion continued.
Researchers believe, according to ESPN, that repeated head impacts sustained between ages 10 and 12 may increase the risk of cognitive impairment later in life.
"They were worse on all the tests we looked at," Robert Stern, the study's lead author and a professor of neurology and neurosurgery, told ESPN. "They had problems learning and remembering lists of words. They had problems with being flexible in their decision-making and problem-solving."
U.S. News & World Report wrote that youth football
players can average 240 head blows in a season, sometimes as many as 585 blows. The study found that some hits can equal the magnitude of ones delivered in high school or college.
"The overall goal of the study was to see whether there's some type of relationship between exposure to repetitive head impacts during a critical period of brain development in childhood and later-life cognitive functioning," Stern, of Boston University's Alzheimer's Disease and CTE Center, told U.S. News & World Report.
Stacy Suskauer, a pediatrician who studies brain injuries in children, told The Washington Post
that readers should wait for more studies on the subject.
"I think we still have a lot to learn about how this knowledge really applies to the much larger population of children who play sports," Suskauer said. "The data certainly needs to be replicated in larger groups."
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