Johns Hopkins researchers claim to have found significant evidence to link specific memory deficits found in former NFL players with accumulated brain damage using an assortment of imaging and cognitive tests.
The study, published in Neurobiology of Disease, evaluated nine former NFL players between the ages of 57 to 74. The former players came from a variety of team positions and reported varying levels of brain injury histories. Some participants self-reported experiencing no concussions throughout their career, while others reported as many as 40 brain injuries.
The participants were compared with nine age-matched, healthy controls with no history of brain injuries.
All participants underwent positron emission tomography (PET) scans and MRI scans, which the researchers used to compare PET scan findings with anatomical locations in participants to check for structural abnormalities. The participants also underwent a selection of memory tests.
The results of the tests showed the former NFL players exhibited evidence of brain injury across several regions of the temporal medial lobe. The researchers specifically noted evidence of damage in the amygdala, which plays a large role in controlling mood.
The findings also revealed atrophy of the right-side hippocampus in the former players. The hippocampus is associated with certain facets of memory, which leads researchers to suspect the decreased size is related to previous damage.
The former football players also scored low on memory tests, especially those focused on verbal learning or memory.
While the small study is limited, the researchers hope further research will support their findings. They also suggest their imaging techniques could potentially pave the way for improvements in how players are diagnosed and treated following brain injuries.