Study Links NFL, Higher Dementia Rates Former professional football players are being diagnosed with Alzheimer's and similar diseases at an alarming rate, says a study commissioned by the NFL. Head injuries have long been a concern of NFL players, and this report has put the league in a tough situation.
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Study Links NFL, Higher Dementia Rates

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Study Links NFL, Higher Dementia Rates

Study Links NFL, Higher Dementia Rates

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

NFL: head injuries and their suspected connection to dementia and mental impairment. The survey was commissioned by the NFL. The retired players who were questioned had a particularly high rate of memory- related diseases, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research conducted phone interviews with a random sample of 1,063 retired NFL players. The interviews happened in November and December of last year. Researchers asked the players a wide range of questions, including this one: Has a doctor ever told you, you had some memory-related illness? Six percent of players 50 and older said yes, 1.9 percent of players between 30 and 49 said yes. The 1.9 percent is 19 times higher than the national average.

JULIAN BAILES: The remarkable aspect of this study is that it's a study that they commissioned.

GOLDMAN: They, says neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, is the NFL, the same NFL that has, in recent years, discounted any outside studies, including Dr. Bailes', showing a link between retired players and brain problems.

BAILES: We told them this four years ago. It's fully in lockstep with other results. But my opinion, ball's in their court about how they want to react.

GOLDMAN: So far, cautiously. While acknowledging it commissioned the report, the NFL warns it's not hard science. An NFL spokesman wrote in an email: The survey did not diagnose dementia but relied on self-reporting by retirees or their family. The survey's lead author, researcher David Weir, also noted that the numbers being reported as alarming, particularly the incidence of brain illness in 30 to 49-year-old retirees being 19 times higher than the national average. That figure, says Weir, is based on a very small sample of respondents.

DAVID WEIR: That total amounted to a total of nine people in our study. So it's hard for me to conclude there's a 19-times elevation on the basis of only nine people being observed, and again, all they told us was a self report. They've been told they had this problem.

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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