UC study shows football's damage to brain lasts for years

Doctors studied 11 former college football players

CINCINNATI -- Researchers from the University of Cincinnati say they've found proof that the negative effects on the brain caused by playing football can affect former players years after sustained injuries.

The study took MRI scans of 11 former college football players and showed thinning brain tissue remaining five years afters after graduation, according to a press release from the UC Academic Health Center. The MRIs were compared to MRIs of former collegiate track and field athletes.

The MRI scans showed "significantly lower cortical thickness within portions of both the frontal and temporal cortex of the brain," the release said. Decreased cortical thickness is correlated with the number of concussions reported, the study showed.

"The former football players showed, on average, lower cortical thickness across prefrontal and temporal brain regions—areas of the brain involved in sustained attention, memory and executive abilities—cognitive domains critical to long-term professional and social function,” said Dr. Cal Adler, who was one principal investigator of the study.

Another finding of the study: Serious brain trauma can occur in college football, not just professional.

“Although many of the functional and cognitive effects of concussion seem to resolve over the months after an event, we have seen where elite athletes from a variety of contact sports can exhibit evidence of neuropathic changes as early as young adulthood,” Adler said.

Adler and Dr. Jon Divine, the other principal investigator of the study, said larger studies should be conducted on football players at younger ages "to better (understand) the risks of college athletics and the potential long-term consequences of concussions in these young players," Divine said.

The study was funded by a grant from the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute. Read more on the study here.

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