Former NFL players’ brains may show marker for cognitive issues

Former NFL Players Show Brain IssuesA marker for later cognitive problems may be starting to show up in the brain tissue of former National Football League players.

According to a study published Monday in JAMA Neurology, researchers found that cognitive problems and depression are more common among aging NFL players with a history of concussion.  But brain damage and mood problems among some segments of the NFL population is not stunning news anymore.

What has got scientists slightly giddy are those markers:  Poor performance on cognitive tests also showing up on sophisticated brain scans.  It suggests that damage post-concussion could some day be detectable by scanning the brain.

"We found some interesting markers that may help explain what is going on in the brain when people start developing (long-term) problems," said Dr. John Hart, medical science director of the Brain Health Institute for Athletes at the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the study.

Hart and colleagues studied 34 former NFL players, and were able to do brain scans on 26 of them; they measured blood flow and white matter changes in their brain tissue.

White matter is brain tissue that acts as a sort of conveyor belt for signals traveling to different brain regions.  When white matter is damaged – think about that conveyor belt veering off-course or stopping altogether – problems crop up with cognition, or thinking ability.

Full story of NFL players with brain issues at CNN Health

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