In the first study of its kind, former National Football League (NFL) players who lost consciousness due to concussion during their playing days showed key differences in brain structure later in life. The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was found to be smaller in 28 former NFL players as compared with a control group of men of similar age and education. The findings were reported online on May 18, 2015 in JAMA Neurology, and they represent the first study to compare the relationship between hippocampal volume, memory performance, and concussion severity. The title of the article is “Imaging Correlates of Memory and Concussion History in Retired National Football League Athletes.” The study was conducted by a team of neurologists and neuropsychologists from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center and the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas. “This is a preliminary study, and there is much more to be learned in the area of concussion and cognitive aging,” said Dr. Munro Cullum, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern, a co-author of the study. “While we found that aging individuals with a history of concussion and loss of consciousness showed smaller hippocampal volumes and lower memory test scores, the good news is that we did not detect a similar relationship among subjects with a history of concussion that did not involve loss of consciousness, which represents the vast majority of concussions,” said Dr. Cullum, who holds the Pam Blumenthal Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Psychology. Some of the retired NFL players also met criteria for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that typically affects memory and may lead to dementia.
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