Thursday, 29 January 2015

Study Suggests Early Start to Football May Pose Brain Risks


Former pros who played before age of 11 showed greater deficits in memory and thinking skills

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- As football fans prepare to watch the 49th Super Bowl this Sunday, a new study suggests that boys who start playing tackle football before the age of 12 may face a higher risk for neurological deficits as adults.

The concern stems from an assessment of current memory and thinking skills among 42 former National Football League players, now between the ages of 40 and 69. Half the players had started playing tackle football at age 11 or younger.

The bottom line: Regardless of their current age or total years playing football, NFL players who were that young when they first played the game scored notably worse on all measures than those who started playing at age 12 or later.

"It is very important that we err on the side of caution and not over-interpret these findings," said study co-author Robert Stern, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, anatomy and neurobiology at Boston University's School of Medicine. "This is just one research study that had as its focus former NFL players. So we can't generalize from this to anyone else.

"At the same time," Stern added, "this study provides a little bit of evidence that starting to hit your head before the age of 12 over and over again may have long-term ramifications. So the question is, if we know that there's a time in childhood where the young, vulnerable brain is developing so actively, do we take care of it, or do we expose our kids to hit after hit after hit?"

Stern, who is also the director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center Clinical Core and director of clinical research at the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at the university, reported the findings with his colleagues in the Jan. 28 issue of Neurology.

The study authors pointed out that, on average, children who play football between the ages of 9 and 12 experience between 240 and 585 head hits per season, with a force that is comparable to that experienced by high school and college players.

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