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University of Michigan study appears to confirm dementia risk among pro football players

The National Football League commisioned a study by the University of Michigan, intended to analyze whether head injuries and concussions occurring in football increase the likelihood of dementia.  Prior studies have suggested such a connection, and have also demonstrated an increased risk of depression and other head injury-related symptoms in veterans, long after the conclusion of their playing careers.  Apologists for the league, including Dr. Ira Casson, co-chairman of the league's "concussions committee" have regularly denounced the methodology of previous studies and called for further research.  Well, this week the League's first commissioned study confirmed that League veterans suffer a vastly increased risk of long-term brain injury complications.

The study asked retired players (or the person reporting for the player, if disabled) if they had "been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or other memory-related diseases" and 6.1 percent of veterans over age 50 reported that they had.  This percentage is five times higher than the national average of 1.2 percent.  When the study looked at veterans under age 50, it found that 1.9 percent were already reporting a dementia-type diagnosis---compared with only 0.1 percent of the normal population. 

Dr. Daniel P. Perl, director of neuropathology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, described the survey results as significant:  "I think this complements what other have found--there appears to be a problem with cognition in a group of N.F.L. football players at a relatively young age."  Cassons continues to downplay the significance of the study and call for "further studies;"  he is currently conducting an examination of 120 players on behalf of the league, with results expected "in a few years."  In the latter study, Cassons is performing neurological examinations on all 120 retirees:  I'm sure we can trust him to report his observations and findings without any significant bias, given his position and the manner in which he has hewn closely to the League's "party line".  Together, he and the League are mindful of the scientists employed by the cigarette industry during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, who answered every health allegation about smoking by calling for further study, deriding the methodology of existing studies, or simply calling them inconclusive.

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