NFL data unwittingly confirms football-dementia risk
A memo prepared by an attorney for the NFL's 88 Plan, a joint NFL and Players' Union project to identify and provide support for veterans suffering from dementia, inadvertently confirmed the disproportionate risk of dementia that veteran players face. The memo originally concluded that NFL veterans' risk of dementia did not exceed the statistically anticipated risk, when NFL experience was compared with other studies of broader population groups. After experts used the NFL data and compared it with these studies in a statistically appropriate manner, however, the data yielded the opposite conclusion: NFL veterans are experiencing dementia at "four or five times" the rate we would predict in a normal population.
Most experts on head trauma agree that concussions and other head injuries increase the risk of dementia, and most medical experts express the greatest concern about multiple head injuries or head injuries occurring before a prior concussion has fully healed. The NFL, however, has been loath to accept the implications of this data, despite paying about 6 million dollars to 106 veterans in the past few years.
The program has identified 68 men, ages 60 - 89 who are receiving aid, and 35 others who received aid before they died. It has also identified a number of other qualified veterans who have failed or refused to apply for aid. When the age-at-onset of these veterans is taken into account and they are properly compared with non-football dementia research, it is apparent that NFL veterans are far more likely than others of similar age to suffer from severe dementia. The author of the original NFL memo now admits that his contrary conclusion was flawed.