College football players more likely to have brain disorders: Boston University CTE study

College football players are more likely to suffer from brain disorders, according to a new study from Boston University researchers who have been examining the impact of tackle football on developing later-life brain disorders like CTE.

Researchers at the Boston University CTE Center have found that former University of Notre Dame football players from several decades ago were five times more likely to report cognitive impairment disorders than the general public.

The football players who were seniors on the 1964 to 1980 rosters were also two and a half times more likely to report recurrent headaches, and 65% more likely to have cardiovascular disorders — compared to a representative sample of same-aged men in the general population .

Consistent with reports of former NFL players, death due to degenerative brain disease — specifically Parkinson’s disease and ALS — was higher in the former college players compared to the general population. However, the researchers cautioned 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.

“From a public health perspective, it is imperative that the long-term neurological and general health consequences of playing football at the college level are better understood,” said corresponding study author Robert Stern, director of clinical research for the BU CTE Center and professor of neurology, neurosurgery and anatomy & neurobiology at BU School of Medicine.

The study also found positive long-term health outcomes in the former college football players who had a lower prevalence of diabetes during life, and an overall lower death rate compared to the general population.

Specifically, death rates from heart, circulatory, respiratory and digestive system disorders, and from lung cancer and violence, were significantly lower in the former players than in the general population.

Results from the new study of former college players are overall quite similar to the former professional players.

“Similar to studies of other former high-level athletes, we found that former college football players have lower overall mortality and lower risk of death from lung cancer and heart disease,” Stern said. “However, the negative health consequences, especially the brain -related disorders, we found in this group of former Notre Dame players are concerning.”

The study on the long-term health outcomes and mortality rates of the former football players was published on Wednesday in JAMA Network Open.

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